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Business, chamber going strong in Lehigh

February 24, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Lehigh's business community is growing and has been since the beginning of the economic recovery, officials said, adding all arrows indicate that won't change in the immediate future.

A number of new businesses, including a pair of seafood restaurants, have opened and other have moved to the industrial complex on Lee Boulevard from Naples, attracted by the lower rent and better availability in Lehigh, said Mike Burgers, who just stepped down as Chamber chair.

"Everybody is busy," he said. "They're starting to hire new help. It's growing. It wasn't as fast as people wanted, but it's been steady. The big thing is property values have gone up."

Article Photos

Culver’s restaurant opened on Lee Boulevard in December.

One of the larger new business in town is a new Culver's, a restaurant chain which has had stores sprout out everywhere in Southwest Florida in the past few years. It opened on Lee Boulevard in December.

"At first, they didn't know how it would be received in Lehigh, and have been blown away by how well they've done," Burgers said. "They've had to expand their hours, that's how much demand they've had."

The next big thing will be an Aldi supermarket, the first in Lee County, just a few doors down, which is under construction and set to open later this winter. Bravo is another supermarket slated to come to town. It will park just a couple doors down.

There will also be a planned development on the corner of Gunnery and State Road 82.

"People are familiar with Aldi from the one they had in Missouri and shopped there. Culver's you can't get into, but it hasn't hurt Wendy's either, they're still pretty busy," said Ray Nicely, executive director of Lehigh Community Services, a non-profit that helps people find work and keep them there.

Also a gas station is looking to expand from four pumps to 12 on the corner of Homestead and Alabama, as well as an automobile and self-storage place going up on Lee Boulevard next to AutoZone.

The greatest jump in business in Lehigh is not in brick-and-mortar locations, but rather homes-based, of which more than 700 exist, Burgers said.

"There are many businesses that offer services like construction, cleaning, even my business is home-based in promotional advertising," he said. "There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops that are coming out."

Burgers said there is room for growth and that Lehigh is open for business.

Nicely agrees.

"With the population over 100,000, more good things are going to happen. Businesses are going to think this is a good option for us," Nicely said. "I'm excited about the growth.

The chamber also has seen an increase in companies that have joined, according to Burgers.

The organization has added board members, volunteers, and training sessions for those volunteers. There will also be more activities to fundraise for the chapter.

"We see things happening. We're putting together a new Web site and possibly a monthly magazine," said Lenore Maffetore, new Chamber chairperson.

These companies, like all others, need people in order to thrive, of course.

An organization called Develop Lehigh has come in to help develop the area, she said.

Develop Lehigh is under the same auspices as programs that are also looking to develop North Fort Myers and Dunbar in Fort Myers.

Burger took a similar view

"The future is bright. We're getting our float going for the Edison Festival of Light Parade, which was a promise we made to our main contributor, the hospital," Burgers said.

Maffetore said she is looking to get more involvement in the Chamber from businesses through education.

"We'd like to see more involvement in the chamber. That's our goal, to educate them about our Website so they can see who is part of the chamber and the services we provide," Maffetore said. "There are a lot of members, they have to communicate with each other."

The business organization does more than just help the business community, though.

"We believe the chamber is here to help us and the community. If we're out of peanut butter and jelly, we put a plea out to businesses for it," Nicely said. "They always step up to the plate. If we have a mobile food pantry, they get the word out."



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