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East County Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019 6 months ago

LECOM just one example of positive growth in Lakewood Ranch

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

For those living in Lakewood Ranch, growth can be a dirty word.

It shouldn't be.

It's easy to understand. We move somewhere because it's beautiful, and we don't want it to change. How often have you heard this story? "I used to be able to look out my window and see cows."

Those were the days. Of course, if you looked at the comprehensive plan when you purchased your home, you would have seen the strip mall possibilities on the other side of your fence.

In the next 10 years — the 2020s — we will get a better look at the Lakewood Ranch master plan as was intended by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and those politicians who approved it. By the end the decade, the growth will be vertical, not horizontal, because developable land will be limited.

The dirty word here isn't growth. It's traffic. More dirty words? Try "snail-like response."  That's our state and county not understanding there no longer are cows in those fields. There are people, lots of them. They drive cars.

Has SMR had an aggressive plan that puts too many people in an area not supported by adequate road systems? I don't buy it. SMR obviously has its sights set on building communities and the road systems within. If these plans were too aggressive for our county and state road systems, then our politicians shouldn't have approved those plans until we were prepared. By the way, we elect the folks who make those decisions, or at the least appoint them.

But let's go back to growth, and the positives associated with it. Take LECOM (Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine) for example.

LECOM, which has its main campus in Erie, Penn., purchased a nice parcel along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard in 1999 and opened a branch campus in 2004. Basically, the LECOM braintrust took a chance the surrounding area would bloom. What we have seen is Lakewood Ranch growing, and LECOM right along with it.

It started with a medical college building and added the dental school building. Now the enrollment is 1,862. Next semester, LECOM will receive 7,000 applications for its medical college. That's for 196 spots. Since 2014, it has added three new masters programs — Master in Health Services Administration, Master of Science in Biomedical Ethics and Masters in Public Health.

Toward the southeast corner of LECOM's parcel (by the YMCA) is space to put another building, perhaps in the next 10 years if LECOM continues to grow at its current rate.

Ultimately, it pulses right along with the heart of Lakewood Ranch. Mark Kauffman, the associate dean of academic affairs at LECOM, said he came to Lakewood Ranch two years ago looking for various doctors for his family. Of the four he picked, three were LECOM graduates.

Those of you new to Lakewood Ranch might have found finding a primary physician in the Lakewood Ranch area can be a chore. It's getting better, though.

"Our students are staying here," Kauffman said. "Our graduates are invested in this area."

Tim Novak, the dean of the School of Health Services, said LECOM expands and evolves with market needs. 

"The thing about the community growing is that we have stability here," he said. "This is a great economy, the whole CORE thing. You know, we are sponsoring the Brain Health Initiative lecture series in Lakewood Ranch. We are not sure how we can plug into (the Brain Health Initiative), but we have people who can. Knowledge goes both ways. They could come and participate in what we are doing, too."

LECOM is just one of the positive growth stories you will find all around Lakewood Ranch. The businesses have come to support the residents and growth allows them to thrive.

It's something to ponder when you start feeling bad about those cows, or you're sitting in traffic.

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