Energy sector emerges as driving force in affordable, accessible heartland.
Dr. Bradley Krohn’s interest in sweet sorghum as a source of ethanol could one day generate an alternative fuel for Floridians. [Photo (right): Mark Wemple]
A Sweet Source of Fuel: In Highlands County, Dr. Bradley Krohn offers what he calls “one part of the solution to the gasoline crisis.” Krohn, an ethanol production technology expert who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, is co-founder of U.S. EnviroFuels, which aims to build a sweet sorghum-ethanol production plant. The $60-million, 40-acre project in Lake Placid has “tremendous political support,” says Krohn, citing the interest expressed by Highlands County commissioners, Congressman Tim Mahoney, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Gov. Crist. In April 2008, the county commission approved a biofuel ordinance allowing for sugar-to-ethanol production. The plant is expected to produce 20 million gallons of biofuel a year and will generate about 30 high-wage jobs. A $7-million Florida Farm to Fuel grant is helping fund the construction. And because the plant is located in a Rural Enterprise Zone, the company may be eligible to receive sales tax credits and corporate income tax credits for job creation, business equipment sales tax refunds and other benefits. The projected completion date is 2010.
Citrus and Cattle Are Big Business: In Highlands alone, citrus employs about 3,000 people full time and year-round; that number jumps to nearly 6,000 during the October-May harvesting season. In addition, more than 60% of the county’s 700,000 acres is used for cattle grazing; Highlands ranks first among Florida’s 67 counties for beef cattle.
Retail Growth: Sebring Regional Airport — the only U.S. airport to encompass both a Foreign Trade Zone and a Community Redevelopment Agency — continues to be a major economic driver for Highlands County. Hotel and retail industry expansion in 2008 includes the addition of 29 guest rooms, 12 suites and a 4,000-square-foot ballroom/conference center at Sheraton Four Points at Sebring Regional Airport. At Shelby Crossing shopping center in Highlands County, new development includes a Dress Barn and an Olive Garden restaurant; a Super Wal-Mart recently opened in the town of Avon Park.
Ready for Business: The city of Clewiston plans to open its new, shovel-ready commerce park in late 2008. Approximately $1.3 million has been spent to prepare new infrastructure — roads, water, sewer and electric utilities — to serve 10 lots at the Clewiston Commerce Park. Officials hope to attract light industrial, manufacturing and assembly, research and development and similar businesses to the 34-acre site. Also in Clewiston, a new $1.2-million, 16,000-square-foot public works building opened in September 2008, and The Knapheide Manufacturing Company — which converts truck chassis to the specific needs of individual companies — is planning to build a new plant on a 21-acre site. A privately owned, 240-acre business park is planned for a site southeast of Clewiston. Infrastructure is already in place and rail access is available at the Weekly Bros. Industrial Park, which will likely open in 2009 once zoning for heavy industrial use is approved.
Fuel for Tomorrow: In Hendry County — home to thousands of acres of cattle ranches, citrus groves, state forests and wildlife management areas — Scotland native David Stewart has big plans: To transform abundantly available citrus waste into clean, affordable ethanol. “Citrus waste can produce ethanol at significantly lower cost than corn,” he says. Stewart’s firm, Boca Raton-based CitrusEnergy LLC, has received a $2.5-million state grant to begin building a facility for converting citrus peel to ethanol on the grounds of the Southern Gardens citrus processing plant in Clewiston. The cellulosic ethanol plant, which would be owned and operated by Florida Power & Light, is expected to produce 4 million gallons of ethanol per year. The announcement in June 2008 that the state of Florida intends to acquire the assets of Southern Gardens’ parent company, U.S. Sugar Corporation, slowed the CitrusEnergy project. Stewart, however, remains optimistic about construction of the citrus-peel-to-ethanol plant because, he says, “the state wants those kinds of jobs and this kind of industry.”