Naples native Brett Diamond, 25, moved to Fort Myers to attend Florida Gulf Coast University. Then he did something few college graduates had done in the past: he moved back to Naples. He lives in North Naples with his wife, Rebecca, and serves as chief innovation officer at Venture X, a company that offers private-membership co-working space in a sleek, modern, hi-tech environment.
Take Julie and Tim Maxwell. The couple moved to Naples from New York five years ago at ages 29 and 35, respectively. Burned out from the stress of their grueling jobs in the financial world, they handpicked Naples as the ideal location to plant roots, open a restaurant, and eventually start a family.
“Naples businesses are acting like they want to keep you in the area,” Diamond says, noting that was a factor in his decision to return. He attributes the work climate, the Mercato shopping center’s hip vibe, and youthful, contemporary services at some of the churches as just some of the changes in recent years that have helped draw more young professionals and families to the area—creating a community that appears to be gradually extending beyond seasonal visitors and wealthy retirees.
Just a decade ago, the Diamonds and the Maxwells would be considered more of the exception than the rule in Naples. Today, the stories of young professionals making a life here are becoming common, as many say they can find everything they need to work and raise a family. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to live among palm trees and white-sand beaches. A recent University of British Columbia study ranked Naples the fourth happiest city in the United States among metro areas with populations under one million. It was the only city in Florida to make the top 10.
Future Job Growth
It is unclear which came first, the young professionals or the increased efforts from businesses and other organizations to woo them. However, the opening of Florida Gulf Coast University 24 years ago appears to have been the initial spark of the Dorian Gray/Benjamin Button pattern in Southwest Florida. As Diamond points out, college students tend to stay where they’ve graduated, especially if they can find work.
In 2014 Forbes named Naples the top city for future job growth. In 2015 Bloomberg Business reaffirmed indicators that the area’s business climate is improving by naming it the top metro area for expected economic growth in 2016. With Hertz’ new corporate headquarters in Estero, the Naples area can reasonably expect a continued boost in young, full-time residents. At press time, Hertz was expected to start moving more than 600 employees to its new headquarters this month.
Meanwhile, Brett and his father, David Diamond, have been influential in inspiring what they call a new “young, entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Naples. David is president and co-founder of DeAngelis Diamond Construction. “We have an intern program with FGCU,” he says. “We love the bright, creative, innovative minds of students. We have hired a number of graduates.”
In his work travels, the elder Diamond saw what was happening in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in technology and innovation among startup companies, and wondered why it couldn’t happen in Naples.
“We opened Venture X right after college,” says Brett, who studied entrepreneurship at FGCU. “We wanted to help young professionals to stay here and attract other businesses.” Since opening in 2012, Venture X and David Diamond, with the company’s business model and success, have helped get a new Collier County program off the launch pad. The Catalyst Accelerator Network is a nonprofit community of entrepreneurs, investors, students, and mentors focused on assisting young start-ups and established overseas companies find work space, funding, and legal advice. At the high school level, entrepreneurship is being encouraged through INCubatoredu, a new program that rolled out to eight Collier County schools this school year.
“In the last five years, two to three especially, Naples has been changing as it grows,” says David Diamond, who has lived in Naples for nearly three decades. “For a long time demographics had stayed the same, as a resort community with retirees. I think that’s still going to be a dominant part of the community, but to see these other ways it’s growing with that [younger, year-round] demographic is exciting. What’s also really exciting is that I haven’t heard any negative comments or criticism.”
A factor in the shift, he believes, was the recession: “It helped somewhat to realize you also need service people, young people, to have a balanced community to take care of the needs of the retiree, resort population.”
Within the past few years, restaurateurs have been eyeing the demographic shift, responding with new late-night options.
Brett Diamond mentions HobNob on Fifth Avenue South and The Continental on Third Street South as relative newcomers on the scene that are popular among young professionals. “You don’t feel like you’re in Naples,” he says. “You feel more like you’re in a nice New York City restaurant.”
“There are actually people here who will stay up past 10 o’clock, and that’s new,” adds Richard D’Amico, who last December opened The Continental, a new-wave steak house and craft cocktail bar with late-night live entertainment. He also co-owns nearby Campiello and other Naples restaurants.
“Business responds to demand. They wouldn’t be building these places if there wasn’t a need,” says Julie Maxwell, whose redesign of the old Captain Kirk’s Stone Crab just off Fifth Avenue South brings a youthful vibe to the new Captain & Krewe.
Both D’Amico and HobNob owner Michael Hernandez, who started opening restaurants in Naples in 1990, echo Maxwell’s sentiment that they do not intentionally target the 20- to 40-year-olds, and that customers of all ages appreciate their fresh approach and nightlife scenes.
This year, another two late-night spots popped up in Naples with much fanfare. Bar Tulia, a gastropub on Fifth Avenue South, had its grand opening in January—and it stays open past midnight six nights a week. Night owls are also raving about 7th Avenue Social, a bar and restaurant that opened in March in Naples that is another culinary standout. It’s serving customers until 2 a.m. every night, plus offers live entertainment. That was virtually unheard of in Naples just a few years ago.
All in the Family
With a children’s museum that opened in 2012, an increase of nearly 1,000 Naples students in the past decade, along with 11 new district schools since 2004, and new options for children’s medical care, it would appear Naples has been attracting couples who are looking to start and grow their families here.
“Over the years, I have seen new and existing attractions provide more programs geared toward families and the younger demographic, such as the Naples Botanical Garden, Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, and Artis—Naples,” says Gabrielle O’Boyle, late 30s, communications manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and an Estero resident for 25 years. “We definitely have seen a trend of younger families moving into Naples and certainly that has helped with our audiences,” adds Brien Spina, who recently relocated his Off the Hook Comedy Club from Marco Island to North Naples.
“The pediatric population in Collier County is expected to grow 6.2 percent over the next five years, and the childbearing female population is projected to increase 4.3 percent,” says Kathy Bridge-Liles, chief administrative officer at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, which is collaborating with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (formerly Miami Children’s Hospital) in building a pediatric urgent care clinic in North Naples. “The expansion of our current clinical services [in Naples] and the addition of pediatric urgent care will help us achieve our goal of keeping children and their families as close to home as possible while offering excellent care.” The clinic, located on the northeast corner of Livingston Road and Pine Ridge Road, is Naples’ first and only urgent and ambulatory care center dedicated solely to pediatrics. It’s scheduled to open in early 2016.
Therese O’Shea, 26, lived most of her life in New Jersey. After an 18-month broadcast stint in Colorado, she accepted a job at WINK-TV in Fort Myers, where she is a traffic and news anchor. She moved to Naples earlier this year to be nearer to her fiancé, Brian Benson. “I feel like where we’re at is where I want to be,” says O’Shea. “I’m getting married next year. There are wonderful schools in this area. We’ll be raising a family. We’re the next generation of Naples.”