Business Florida 2011 - The Regions
South Central Florida capitalizes on ease of access and green energy technologies for business success.
Mike Johnson relocated his company to Florida’s South Central region almost by accident — and he’s glad he did. In 2006, Entegra Roof Tiles Inc. was in the market for a new site to manufacture concrete tiles. Concern over high costs and permitting delays in urban areas prompted company officials to visit rural Okeechobee County. Here, they found — almost as if waiting for them — a newly completed 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and a 4,400-square-foot office space that matched the building specs they needed.
Demographics for the South Central/ Heartland Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.
Location, in fact, is a centerpiece to economic development across all of South Central Florida — a region of small towns, citrus groves, rivers, swamps, scrub, prairies, cattle land, sugar cane fields and renowned Lake Okeechobee. Mining and agriculture, most notably sugar production, have long been this area’s heavy hitters. But change is coming — in part, because mine deposits won’t last forever. And with the South Florida Water Management District’s planned purchase of a sizable chunk of nearby sugarcane acreage for Everglades protection, local leaders are re-examining their region’s assets and striking off in new directions to make up for an anticipated loss of agricultural jobs.
"We’re smack down in the middle of Florida’s major markets, where 85% of the state’s population is within a 150-mile radius," says Tracy Whirls, executive director of the Glades County Economic Development Council. "We’re taking advantage of that location."
Hoping to capitalize on South Central’s centrality, Lykes Brothers Inc. is currently marketing a plan to build an integrated logistics center (ILC) with its partner A. Duda & Sons Inc. on 4,000 acres in Glades County at Moore Haven. By definition, an ILC is a distribution and manufacturing warehousing hub designed to handle products and materials brought by ship and rail, which in turn would be transferred to smaller trucks and dispersed to regional markets to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion. Mark Morton, senior VP of Lykes Land Investments, expects the project one day to mesh with other emerging ILCs in Florida to keep up with the increased commercial traffic expected when renovations at the Panama Canal are completed.
Alternative fuel center
Location is also helping South Central refigure its agricultural mission in keeping with new, green energy projects that convert locally grown crops into alternative fuels. For instance, San Francisco-based LS9 plans to build what the company says is the largest advanced bio-diesel 'demonstration facility' in the world at an existing fermentation plant near Okeechobee. "The new facility will allow LS9 to demonstrate that our one-step process is ready and capable of bringing low-cost, low-carbon fuels to market while creating and preserving jobs in the Okeechobee area," says LS9 CEO Bill Haywood.
Fort Lauderdale-based Southeast Renewable Fuels Inc. will soon start construction on a $100-million plant in Hendry County that will convert locally grown sweet sorghum into ethanol and create 50 jobs. Says CEO Don Markley, "Hendry County is ideal; there’s a lot of acreage, and farmers are ready to go along because a lot of their land has been used only for grazing, lying idle or hurt by hurricanes. In addition, there’s a trained workforce." Markley adds that the company may also build a dry ice facility that could create another 25 to 30 jobs.
To the north in Highlands County, Bradley Krohn, manager and principal of Tampa-based EnviroFuels LLC, expects to break ground in summer 2011 for construction of a $145-million plant that will produce 25 megawatts of renewable energy, along with 30 million gallons a year of commercial-grade, low-carbon ethanol using a proven technology used successfully in Brazil to make ethanol from sugar cane and sweet sorghum. The plant will create 70 new jobs and "provide a new source of revenue for local growers," says Krohn. "The key to all this," he adds, "is that local growers have invested in our project."
BP — which recently bought Verenium’s cellulosic biofuels business — is now the prime mover behind another unfolding Highlands County project to build the first 'cellulosic commercial grade operation' of its type in the U.S. Expected to produce 36 million gallons of ethanol using a licensed University of Florida technology, the project will employ 50. Groundbreaking is slated for early 2011, and if things go well, an additional facility may be built nearby.
Florida Power & Light Company was recognized by the Southeastern Electric Exchange with its highest honor for outstanding performance in constructing the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the United States — the 25-megawatt DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The project created hundreds of well-paying construction jobs and will generate more than $2 million in property tax revenue for DeSoto County in its first full year of operation.