Southwest Florida is the region along the south west gulf coast of the U.S. State of Florida. Definitions of the region vary, though its boundaries are generally considered to put it south of the Tampa Bay area, west of Lake Okeechobee, and mostly north of the Everglades and to include Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. For some purposes, the inland counties of DeSoto, Glades, and Hendry, and the thinly populated mainland section of Monroe County, south of Collier, are also included.
The region includes four metropolitan areas: the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota MSA (733,000 population) (sometimes alternately considered a part of the Tampa Bay Area to the north), the Cape Coral-Fort Myers MSA (660,000), the Naples-Marco Island MSA (340,000), and the Punta Gorda MSA (165,000). The most populous county in the region is Lee County (661,000 population), and the region's largest city is Cape Coral with a population of 165,831 as of 2013.
Southwest Florida was largely ignored by commercial developers until the late 1800s, and as such, lacks much of the heavier development present in other parts of Florida, such as that found in the central or southern regions of the state. In recent years however, there has been a major real estate boom focusing on downtown Fort Myers (high-rise residential condominiums); southern Lee County (commercial development and high-technology); eastern Collier County (residential development); and eastern parts of Bradenton
Overall, the region notably suffers from urban sprawl; however, numerous efforts in recent years have been made to remedy this situation, especially as the urbanized area of the coastal counties pushes eastward into agricultural land and the sensitive Everglades.
Inland counties (DeSoto, Hendry and Glades Counties) are notably rural, with the primary economic driver being agriculture. Important products grown in this area include tomatoes, beef, sugarcane, and citrus products including oranges. Agricultural harvesting in Southwest Florida employs approximately 16,000 seasonal workers, 90 percent of which are thought to be migrants. 
Southwest Florida is served by several major highways, including the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) and the Interstate 75 freeway, both of which connect the area to Tampa to the north, and Greater Miami–Ft. Lauderdale to the east. Long-term cooperative infrastructure planning is coordinated by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council (web site), and in heavily populated Lee County, the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Southwest Florida International Airport, located in South Fort Myers, served over 7.42 million passengers in 2009 and offers non-stop flights to 3 cities in Europe and 2 in Canada, in addition to 36 domestic airports. The area's secondary airport, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, served 1.34 million passengers in 2009.
The following table shows the airports that serve the Southwest Florida area with commercial flights:
|Tampa International Airport||TPA||TPA||Large hub||8,268,207||Southwest (5,186)|
|Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers)||RSW||RSW||Medium hub||3,789,386||Delta (1,650)|
|Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport||SRQ||SRQ||Small hub||1,340,000||Delta (636)|
|St. Petersburg–Clearwater International Airport||PIE||PIE||Small hub||1,220,000||Allegiant (1,082)|
|Punta Gorda Airport (formerly Charlotte County Airport)||PGD||PGD||Small Hub)||836,000||Allegiant (830)|
The Port of Manatee provides a full range of port services for commercial, industrial and cruise ship purposes.
Seminole Gulf Railway provides freight services throughout Southwest Florida.
Tourism is a major economic driver in the area. In addition, many seasonal residents live in the area during the winter months, as temperatures in south Florida stay very moderate during that time of year.
- Beaches in the following locales:
- Attractions including:
- Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers
- Lake Okeechobee renowned for fishing and ecotourism.
- Naples Botanical Garden
- Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
- Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation where the Seminole nation operates a sizable casino.
- Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota
- St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota
|County||County Seat||Pop. (2004 est.)||Pop. (2000)||Change (2000–2004)||Change (1990–2000)|
|Charlotte County||Punta Gorda||157,134||141,627||+10.9%||+27.6%|
|Collier County||East Naples||296,678||251,377||+18.0%||+65.3%|
|Glades County||Moore Haven||11,131||10,576||+5.2%||+39.3%|
|Lee County||Fort Myers||514,295||440,888||+16.6%||+31.6%|
|Florida – statewide||17,397,161||15,982,378||+8.8%||+23.5%|
Major incorporated cities
- Bradenton, Manatee County
- Bonita Springs, Lee County
- Cape Coral, Lee County
- Fort Myers, Lee County
- Naples, Collier County
- North Port, Sarasota County
- Sarasota, Sarasota County
- Punta Gorda, Charlotte County
Major unincorporated communities
Communities listed have a population greater than 30,000 according to the 2000 census.
- Lehigh Acres, Lee County
- North Fort Myers, Lee County
- Port Charlotte, Charlotte County
- South Fort Myers, Lee County
Images for kids
Southwest Florida Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.