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Hospitality and Aviation Among Industries Promising Economic Growth in Charlotte County

Port Charlotte isn’t known for its busy skyline but soon a bustling riverside resort is expected to draw thousands of new visitors to the Peace River area.

Building crews use towering cranes alongside U.S. 41 to wrap up construction on the Sunseeker Resort which will include 785 hotel rooms, a 60,000-square-foot convention center and more than 20 options for dining when the project concludes in Spring 2023.

“We think it will change the hospitality game literally for everyone,” said Micah Richins, Sunseeker Resort president and chief operating officer.

Richins touts that the amenities and service resort guests can expect will beat anything in Las Vegas, where he and many on his management team were recruited.

“We’ll have a pool that’s the size of a football field,” said Richins.

Dave Gammon, the director of Charlotte County Economic Development, believes the resort will be a significant boost to the local community.

“We've always kind of been a donut hole…People have always gone either way south or north of us and just skipped over Charlotte County,” Gammon said. “Sunseekers is proving that you can come here to the donut hole and things happen.”

Allegiant Airlines is so convinced that visitors want to enjoy the quiet charm and ecological beauty of the area that it invested more than $600 million to develop the Sunseeker Resort.

The company hopes many of the 800,000 passengers that fly on the airline each year into Punta Gorda’s airport will actually stay and book a room at the resort. The company says it’s already booked 31 conventions for more than $13 million.

“Really, the people were going other places and leaving Charlotte County because there wasn't really something to hold them here,” Gammon said. “You know, there were small hotels, there was a limited food scene, but there wasn't really this dynamic project or opportunity to have people stay…”

Gammon calls the resort a game changer for the region.

It just changes us,said Gammon.

Rick Barone knows the resort could be competition to his restaurant, Pioneers Pizza, just down the street, but also thinks it could bring in more customers.

“I have no idea how it's going to be. I look at it as a bittersweet type situation. I kind of like having the small town and being a big fish in a small pond. Now it's kind of times are changing,” he said.

Gammon says hospitality is just one area of growth that is transforming the area. He says Charlotte County is no longer a secret — a place no one’s heard about or assumes is in North Carolina. This year Punta Gorda was named the best place to relocate a corporate headquarters in the eastern U.S. by The Boyd Company, a corporate relocation consultant.

Major corporations are also taking notice of Charlotte County’s convenient location between larger metro areas as a distribution hub.

“We are really starting to stand out in Southwest Florida as a premier distribution location,” Gammon said.

The county estimates FedEx will spend $30 million dollars to develop land on Piper Road and create a 250,000-square-foot distribution center. The developer, Equus, recently broke ground on a 370,000-plus square foot logistics center nearby — another $40 million dollar development for the county.

“I think in the next couple of years you'll see distribution companies lined up in our Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park because of where we are and the accessibility of Interstate 75,” Gammon said.

Another example of growth that is transforming the community: the aviation industry.

“We have aviation businesses here, but it's going to explode,” Gammon said.

More than 5 million dollars in government funding is being invested into educational programs and facilities to train future aviation mechanics in Charlotte County. Teens and adults graduating from the new aviation program at Charlotte Technical College are in big demand because of a critical worldwide shortage of aviation employees.

“They're coming to Charlotte County because they want to be close to those kids when they graduate,” said Gammon. “We have the land. We have the proximity of the airport that the businesses want. That's available. It's not crowded yet. So it's going to change significantly, probably, in the next three or four years. It will be unrecognizable.”

But one obstacle for these growth plans is a worker shortage; The Sunseeker Resort alone will need 1,200 people.

Barone, from Pioneers Pizza, chuckled at hearing the number of employees the resort will need because he has struggled to find enough staff for his restaurant.

“I don't even think there's about 1,200 people that are working age over here in Port Charlotte,” said Franco.

“There is not enough labor in the market right now. We all know that, right. So we intend to do the things that make us the employer of choice,” said Richins from Sunnseeker Resort. “We will be the newest -- we'll be the shiny toy, so to speak.”

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