Complete Guide to Florida Economic Development Regions

Overview of 8 Regions

Florida, the third largest state in the U.S. by population, has a substantial mix of economic opportunities for businesses. Florida has the fourth highest gross domestic product (GDP) and total personal income in the United States, making it a favorable place for business, especially for the retail and financial industries. Many companies move their headquarters to Florida because of the favorable tax laws and diverse markets within the state. And Hardee County, part of Florida’s South Central economic Region, is no different.

Hardee County is in between the South Central and Tampa Bay economic regions, where manufacturing, technology and tourism industries provide millions of jobs. South Central Florida is one of the state’s most prolific areas for startups. There are multiple incubator and accelerator programs for startups in Hardee County, and major funding opportunities in the neighboring Tampa Bay region. Florida’s largest cities, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, Pensacola and Jacksonville, offer similar opportunities across the eight economic regions.

Florida’s economic regions focus on six different industries: tourism, agriculture, aerospace technology, financial services, biotechnology and pharmacy. Most people associate Florida with “Old Florida” attractions and hospitality services, however the area’s wealth and real estate appeal makes it a primary hub for innovation and industry. Leaders in aerospace technology, such as Boeing and General Dynamic have significant operations in Florida. They attract talent from across the country to their facilities. Florida also has many pharmaceutical and biomedical research facilities, including labs at each of its major universities.

Across north Florida you will find some of the state’s largest colleges, and a growing network of resources for entrepreneurs. While north Florida’s population is not as dense as central and south Florida, it is a popular place for small businesses to grow. Central and south Florida attract manufacturing and major corporate headquarters, but north Florida provides affordable real estate and more opportunities for startups and small businesses to find a suitable market niche.

The east coast of Florida is home to most of the state’s tourism. From the historical landmarks of St. Augustine, to the family attractions of Orlando and rich culture of Miami, the east coast draws in both travellers and relocating businesses. Businesses looking to move to Florida often prefer the east coast because of its access to the tourist market both in the winter and summer.

Florida’s economic regions each have their own characteristics that draw in like businesses and consumers. Learning more about each of these regions will help you better understand how your business can benefit from Florida’s economic diversity.

Northwest Region

Florida’s “Great Northwest” is a growing destination for small businesses, and Florida’s entry to other major sectors of the southeastern United States. With a workforce over 650,000 strong, this area attracts those in manufacturing, technology, health sciences, among other industries. Northwest Florida is also a preferred place of business for government contractors, because of the four military bases and 6,000 military personnel. This area isn’t just a place for tourism - it’s a place where small business and corporations can thrive.

The Northwest region’s strong military presence brings in thousands of technology and government contracting jobs annually. In fact, military activity and manufacturing accounts for 35% of the twelve counties’ regional economy. The Airforce and Navy bases have brought companies like Armada Ammunition (headquartered in Quincy, FL) to the area. Boeing Company also recently opened facilities in in Ft. Walton Beach. This expansion will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars into the Northwest Florida workforce and economy, because of the strong military presence along the Panhandle coastline.

Northwest Florida is also a highly diverse area for college students and young professionals. It has nine colleges and universities, including the oldest public university in the state, Florida State University (FSU.) Many international students attend FSU and the University of West Florida, both of which have strong academic programs. The Panhandle’s population percentage with a Bachelor’s degree is 19% higher than national average, increasing the pool of skilled labor. Not only that, but many of these students are active military, veterans, and adults returning to college after experience in the workforce.

Veteran students and professionals have many resources in the Northwest Region to find high-paying jobs, or to start their own businesses. Institutions like the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), headquartered in Panama City, help unemployed military retirees start their own small businesses. Programs like the VBOC are expanding to include business incubators and accelerators for veteran-owned and operated startups. Veteran programs in Fort Walton Beach have partnered with the private business incubator Venture Hive to provide these programs in Ft. Walton and surrounding areas.

With more and more businesses opening in Northwest Florida, the tourism industry has naturally expanded to match that of South and Central Florida. Cities such as Destin and Panama City Beach are popular places for affordable family vacations and seasonal tourism. Panama City Beach is known for its spring and summertime tourism. The beautiful white sands of the Gulf and the “Old Florida” tourist destinations are a gateway to our Sunshine State’s charm.

Florida’s Northwest region has the lifestyle, business opportunities, and developing economic prosperity that motivates people from all over the world to visit and stay. To learn more about starting a business in Northwest Florida, click here.

North Central Region

North Central Florida is an often overlooked, but incredibly valuable economic region to Florida’s technology and industry sectors. This area comprises eleven counties and 33 incorporated municipalities, and a population of almost 900,000. North Central Florida provides thousands of jobs in high-tech industries and has the largest research center in the state. It also produces much of Florida’s revenue in logistics and life sciences.

The largest city in North Central Florida is Gainesville, home to the University of Florida (UF) and some of the largest technology innovation and research centers in the state. UF has the most utility patents in Florida (105), and received over $700 million in research funding since 2015. UF is a top medical school, research center, and is surrounded by business incubator and accelerator programs to bring these innovative technologies to the private sector. The Florida Innovation Hub has launched many successful companies, and developed a strong workforce of young professionals from the UF research centers.

Because of the University of Florida, North Central Florida has one of the highest college-graduate rates in the country. 43% of residents over 25 have bachelor's degrees, which is 14% higher than national average. These young and educated workers provide major corporations, both in the U.S. and international, to expand their operations into the southeast. The Dutch software developer VANAD opened its first U.S. facility in Gainesville, which opens the opportunity for job growth and more economic diversity.

Unlike most of Florida, the North Central region has not emphasized the tourism industry until recently. The Original Florida Tourism Task Force (d.b.a “Visit Natural North Florida”) wants to bring ecotourism to North Central Florida as a mens to boost the economy and promote the area’s natural wildlife. This organization has brought the traditional “Old Florida” tourism to an area that was once regarded as primarily industrial and technology-driven. North Central Florida’s proximity to the east coast and major tourist attractions in Orlando has also piqued interest in the region’s potential for ecotourism.

North Central Florida’s natural landscape provides much more than a destination for visitors. Landmarks such as the Suwannee River and the abundance of natural springs offer many natural resources that feed the state’s manufacturing and energy facilities. The landscapes also attract real estate investors looking to develop or restore property more affordable than that on the Gulf or East coast. North Central Florida is popular for middle-income families and retirees in the state.

Northeast Region

The Northeast region of Florida is home to some of the state’s most advancing cities and industries. St. Augustine is the state’s oldest city, attracting thousands of tourists to the historical sites year round. Jacksonville, in Duval County, was ranked No. 2 by DataFox for the “Best Cities for Tech” in 2016. This area borders the Atlantic, making it a prime area for international trade and marine industries. However, the region cannot be defined by just one city or industry - the three counties in Northeast Florida have great economic diversity and a variety of workforce opportunities.

The Northeast region has six major cities (Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Palm Coast and Bunnell) bordering the Atlantic coastline. These cities are popular for tourism, but also have key players in finance, technology, and even manufacturing. Across the St. John’s River, the Northeast also has several major cities in manufacturing as well as logistics and transportation.

Many major corporations have opened locations in Northeast Florida, including Enrst & Young, Citibank, Southeastern Grocers, LLC (parent company of Bi-Lo, Harveys and Winn-Dixie) and Amazon. The new 800,000 square foot Amazon warehouse set to open in 2017 will create at least 1500 new full-time jobs. Major importers such as BMW North America also attract business to the coastal regions, offering opportunity to a workforce of over 700,000.

Northeast Florida also has a strong educational system, with eight colleges and six high schools earning places in the U.S. News & World Report’s “2016 Best High Schools.” The largest college of the Northeast, the University of North Florida (UNF), was also considered one of the top colleges by the Princeton Review in 2016. UNF is a public Florida university, with strong medical and nursing programs.

Students and young talent have plenty of opportunity to grow their careers in Northeastern Florida. Research centers like the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville offer students hands-on experience with some of the best in medical, pharmacology and nursing fields. The area also has many technology startups to attract a workforce outside the state.

Just outside Northeast Florida you have beach and tourist attractions that bring visitors from out of state. Tourism in this region is not as prominent as it is in other parts of the state, however the other regions bring a healthy influx of workers. Northeast Florida is a great place to work, travel, and grow business in newly emerging markets.

Tampa Bay Region

Tampa Bay is arguably the fastest growing region in Florida. With a labor force over two million strong, this area’s industries and population growth are expanding at rates surpassing the state average. Tampa Bay, and its major cities including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Lakeland, bring thousands of tourists and a talented workforce to Florida every year.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, Tampa is one of the largest area of entrepreneurial growth in the nation. Places like the Tampa Bay WaVe and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center incubate and accelerate startups that fuel the economic growth in the region. Though Tampa used to be only a major manufacturing and industrial region of Florida, it has expanded to the technology and medical industries in recent years.

Two of the largest medical organ in America have headquarters in the tampa Bay region. Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical and medical device company, and John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, a teaching hospital and medical research center, both have headquarters in Tampa. The area also hosts innovative medical research, including the Lions Eye Institute in Ybor City. Lions Eye recently developed a procedure for retinal transplants, which has never been performed at another hospital in the world.

Medical fields are so prominent in the Tampa Bay region because of its high level of educational excellence. There are 19 colleges within the nine-county Tampa Bay region, the largest being the University of Tampa. It was ranked in the top of the nation’s institutions for patents at a university (90 in 2015).There are also several community, private, and technical schools in the area which diversifies the workforce and the economic structure of this region.

Aside from medical and technology sectors, Tampa is still a major area of Florida that has developed its tourism industry. Tourism is huge in Tampa and St. Petersburg, with many different theme parks, beaches, retail centers, and eco-tourism destinations. Hillsborough County alone averaged $26 million in tourism-related tax dollars. Retail is also a major economic driver in Tampa Bay, which peaks during tourist seasons.

Tampa Bay is a great place to start a business or advance your career. Entrepreneurs thrive in the Tampa Bay business culture, and have more than enough resources to launch their startups. Small businesses also do well with the influx of skilled labor and recent college graduates. Tampa Bay is likely to grow even more in the next five years with economic development plans and future companies moving to the central hub of Florida industry.

East Central Region

East Central Florida is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. It was ranked No. 1 in 2015 for both job growth and population growth by the U.S. Census Bureau. Because of its size and ever-increasing workforce, East Central Florida has become the most popular place for Florida residents to relocate for work or start new businesses.

This area is home to some of Florida’s largest and oldest tourist communities. Orlando, Florida’s fourth largest city, has the world famous Disney World, which brings an approximate $4 billion in revenue annually. Disney World and its neighbor SeaWorld attract a combined 24 million tourists to the city every year. However, Orlando isn’t the only tourist destination in the East Central region. Cocoa Beach is home to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, and is a port for several commercial cruise liners.

Next to Cocoa Beach is the aviation and aerospace hub f Florida. Cape Canaveral is home to the Kennedy Space Center museum and the primary Florida headquarters for aviation giant Boeing. The aviation and aerospace corporation brings in thousands of technology jobs to the area, but newer private space exploration companies are also emerging in the East Central region. SpaceX launched the world’s first privatized space exploration in Cape Canaveral, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently announced his new aerospace company, Blue Origin, which plans to launch reusable rockets for private spaceflight at the same station.

Because of the emergence of aviation innovation, East Central Florida is a hub or startup ventures in software and hardware development. Orlando and Winter Park have become new hubs for startup growth. The area is also home to one of Florida’s largest universities, the University of Central Florida (UCF), which provides a stable supply of educated and skilled workers to these new companies.

There are sixteen total colleges and universities in East Central Florida. UCF is the largest in the area and the second largest in the state, with a strong engineering program that feeds talent into the area’s aviation and aerospace industries. Winter Park is home to Florida’s oldest university, Rollins College, a private liberal arts school that has been ranked in the top three spots since 1996 for “Regional University in the South” by the U.S. News & World Report. Rollins College is also the first “Fair Trade” certified college in the state.

Economic diversity and educational opportunity makes East Central Florida one of the most popular places to relocate in the country. The Villages, one of Orlando’s planned communities, was the most sought after residential development in America in 2015. Beyond the wealth and opportunity of this area, there are also large areas of land dedicated to natural preservation and recreation. East Central Florida is the ideal mix of industry, technology, modernism and unique Florida charm.

South Central Region

South Central Florida is one of the most beautiful areas of the sunshine state. It’s natural landscapes and expansive farmlands generate millions of dollars and jobs for the state’s tourism and agricultural industries. However, this region is also a growing area for manufacturing and agricultural technology innovation. Hardee County is part of this expanding Florida region, and we promote its economic diversity in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, and small business incubation.

South Central Florida has a population density of 4.4 people per square mile. The open areas of land were primarily dedicated to agriculture natural preservation, but in recent years communities have invested in solar energy solutions for commercial and residential use. Many solar power farms, including the Florida Power and Light (FPL) company, generate enough energy to power entire neighborhoods and cities with solar energy. By 2017, FPL’s Citrus Solar Energy Center will be able to power 12,000 homes with solar energy.

In addition to agriculture and energy industries, availability of natural preservatives in South Central Florida facilitates ecotourism. This region, with the state’s largest lake (Lake Okeechobee), is very popular for boating, fishing, camping, and watersports.Much of the land here has little to no development because ecotourism and agriculture is such an important part to local culture and lifestyle. Hardee County greatly supports value added agricultural business and energy solutions in the local area.

SouthCentral Florida has four campuses in South Florida State College. South Florida State College is the area’s only college, but it attracts both in state and out of state students too the area’s growing workforce. Students in technology can also opt to take classes at the TechRiver technology park. TechRiver’s university offers classroom areas for virtual professors to teach technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) related classes.

Other areas of economic growth include manufacturing. Gateway Logistics and Manufacturing Training Center is planning to build a talent recruitment pipeline, in hopes to encourage new manufacturing and technology companies to relocate to the area. Hardee County Economic Development Council partners the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority to influence the growth of manufacturing.

South Central Florida is an even mix of value-add agricultural development, ecotourism and manufacturing industries. Hardee county and its neighbors enjoy economic diversity and constant growth in new industries of technology. It is expected for these industries and other market niches continue to grow in South Central Florida.

Southwest Region

Florida Southwest region is one of the state’s wealthiests and economically diverse. Industry ranges from high-tech research to travel, transportation and tourism. Along the coast, Fort Myers and Naples attract many tourists and winter residents to their warm and sunny beaches. However, the region’s technology and manufacturing industries are making the area a permanent home for many entrepreneurs and a talented workforce of recent college graduates.

The southwest has great workforce diversity. The skilled worker population, ages 25-54, is expected to increase 15.6% by 2025. This is in part due to the area’s four colleges and their out-of-state recruitment. But diversity is not limited to the young talent in the southwest.Since 2012, minority-owned small business (specifically Hispanic) have grown by 44% in Collier County and by 39% in Lee County. The southwest is a great place for immigrant entrepreneurs and Hispanic family business to grow and prosper.

Many major corporate entities are headquartered in Southwest Florida. Gartner Inc., a technology research and advisory firm, is one of Fy. Myers’ largest employers. Recent expansions will allow them to employ over 2,000 people by 2019. This is more than their headquarters staff in Connecticut. Another national corporate entity, Hertz Corporation, is headquartered in Estero.

Tourism in the southwest has prospered over the decades. In 2015, close to 5 million tourists visited Lee County alone, adding a total $3 billion in retail sales. Marco Island and Naples are some of Florida’s most popular vacation areas for the wealthy and retired. Cost of living is higher than the rest of the southwest in these cities, but they attract travellers and real estate investors from across the country.

With tourism comes the travel and transportation industries. Ft. Myers is the largest contributor to the southwest in logistics and transportation. Ft. Myers’ Southwest Florida International Airport served over 8 million passengers in 2015, and that number is expected to rise continually. The nearby city of Punta Gorda is also saw a 33% increase in airport traffic in 2015.

Between these two major cities, there are plans for development of a new community by developer Syd Kitson. He announced progress on his project of a, 18,00 acre solar-powered city. “Babcock Ranch” as Kitson suggests, will contain 19,500 homes, 6 million square feet of commercial development and a transportation system of driverless vehicles. Construction of the solar power plant by Florida Power and Light company is already underway.

Southwest Florida is expected to grow and diversify in the next decade. It is a great place to start small business, or relocate to start a new career.

Southeast Region

Florida’s southeast is a fast-paced and ever-expanding area for technology and entrepreneurship. From defense and aviation to media and business services, this area’s growing economy offers businesses the opportunity to take flight. The region’s largest county, Miami-Dade, has several major corporate entities, government contractor firms, and startup incubator programs that have helped recruit talent to the workforce and fuel economic growth.

23% of the population in the southeast is of foreign descent. Almost 50% of citizens in in Miami-Dade county alone are Hispanic, which brings a cultural richness that stimulates business growth and diversity. One of the largest Spanish television broadcasting company in the world, NBC Universal Telemundo Enterprises, has consolidated its headquarters in Miami. The area encourages immigration of Spanish and Latino populations as part of their culture and economic development projects.

The southeast encourages minority-owned business to thrive PowerMoves, a nationwide project aimed towards accelerating and funding high-growth technology companies founded by minority-group members. PowerMoves was funded by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with $1.2 million. Across the nation, PowerMoves has helped over 165 startups succeed.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties were ranked among the top five largest metro areas for startup growth in 2015. It’s estimated that this area increases by over 6,200 entrepreneurs every year. Because of the density and diversity of entrepreneurs, European incubator Startupbootcamp started its first U.S. program in Miami. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also funded this program with $2 million for startup capital. Startupbootcamp focuses on health-related technology. The program has limited acceptance, so the success rates of participants is expected to be high.

The startup world attracts larger companies looking for young talent and potential acquisitions in the future. Technology giants General Electric and Viacom International Studios (producer for shows such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central), both have locations in the southeast. Other large corporate entities in manufacturing, logistics and transportation have headquarters in Miami, Fort. Lauderdale, and Boca Raton.

The southeast has one of Florida’s largest industry sectors in aviation. Department of Defense (DOD) contractor Pratt & Whitney produces fighter-jet aircrafts, a contract estimated at $1.4 billion. The southeast also has several major airports, Miami International being the largest. Miami International Airport is the only airport in the nation (and second in the world) certified by the International Air Transport Association for the transport and handling of pharmaceuticals.

Southeast Florida is a prime area for technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial development. This helps even small business grow and take advantage of the diverse consumer market. Southeast Florida may become the next technology hub of the southeastern United States.


Florida is the most rapidly growing state in the southeast for business and economic development. Our entrepreneurs and talented workforce are making a change in the way industry and technology are advancing on a nationwide scale. And each of Florida’s economic regions has a special character that makes the state unique, diverse, and a perfect home for all types of individuals. From the beautiful coastlines to the fast-paced inner cities, Florida is your destination for opportunity and success.

Florida’s strongest industries, in technology, manufacturing, aviation, tourism and finance, all have great market potential now and in the future. Florida’s population growth averages 2% every year, which means B2C (Business to Consumer) markets are in great position to grow. As more retirees and military personnel relocate to the state, businesses can benefit from greater consumer buying power and increased income potential. In rural communities of the Panhandle and Central Florida, population is also expected to increase and benefit from these trends.

Innovation is encouraged in all of Florida’s economic regions. Entrepreneurial development in the Tampa, Miami, and Orlando areas has increased these communities’ value and contribution to overall economic prosperity in the state. The extensive military presence also offers opportunity for government contractors and private sector technology companies to innovate in the aerospace and aviation industries.

Florida is the nation’s most popular tourist destination, with year-round warm weather and a variety of attractions for all. Ecotourism is growing in the state, with over 160 state parks and recreation areas. Of course, the major theme parks (including the world’s most popular park, Disney World) give visitors the experience of a lifetime in the nation’s sunshine state.

Because of the high quality of life in Florida, some tourists decide to make Florida their permanent home. The real estate industry has grown consistently in Florida every year, and the 2017 housing market is expected to increase. This is positive for both investors and small businesses.

If you are looking to start a business in Florida, read more from the Hardee County Economic Development Council’s Resources page. We help entrepreneurs and small businesses gain the knowledge they need to thrive in Florida’s diverse market space. Have specific questions about starting a business in Hardee County? Contact us! We are happy to help you succeed and accomplish your business goals.


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