Growing technology cluster draws R & D facilities to economical, accessible Tampa Bay region.
Discount grocer Aldi plans 25 stores in Florida and a headquarters to serve them. [Photo: Aldi]
Location, Location: This county’s central location and the fact that I-4 cuts a 35-mile-long swath from east to west have long been attractive for distribution- and logistics-oriented development. Among the companies taking advantage of this attribute are Ford Motor Company, Best Buy and Sherwin-Williams. Polk Community College’s Supply Chain Management Institute provides state-of-the-art training for high-wage jobs in the supply chain management and logistics industries.
Kevin Hoover, vice president with real estate giant CB Richard Ellis, notes that 9 million Floridians reside within a 100-mile radius. “It just makes sense for companies to have a presence in Polk County.”
Hoover helped German discount specialty grocer Aldi choose Haines City for a 500,000-square-foot, $40-million, 150-employee distribution/headquarters facility to service the 25 stores the company is opening in Florida.
“The community has been terrific to work with, says Aldi’s Florida Vice President Dave Behm. “We’ve had a lot of help in getting approvals.” Under an impact fee mitigation program recently approved by the Polk County Commission, Aldi could get breaks totaling some $500,000.
Companies with a significant presence in Polk include JCPenney, Home Depot, Rooms To Go, Saddle Creek Corporation, Southern Wine and Spirits, Advance Auto Parts and Publix Super Markets. Headquartered in Polk County, Publix has 940 supermarkets in five states and more than 140,000 employees, 3,000 of whom work in Polk County.
On the retail side, the $500-million Posner Park — a 386-acre development at I-4 and U.S. 27 in Davenport — includes anchor tenants JCPenney, Michaels and PetSmart; each opened in mid-2008. By late 2008, Posner expects to open a full 500,000 square feet of the project.
Development Aplenty: Recent developments in Citrus County include a new Publix supermarket in Homosassa and a new 75-room Holiday Inn Express, conveniently located for golfing enthusiasts near the world-famous Black Diamond Quarry course. Also new to the area: Integrated Alligator Industries, where gators are raised, their hides processed and high-end wallets, belts, purses and other products crafted. The plant employs 15 workers; plans call for 50 more.
A massive project planned just to the north in Levy County could have significant impact on Citrus in the coming years. If Progress Energy Florida goes ahead with its plans to build a $17-billion nuclear plant in southern Levy, hundreds of permanent and temporary jobs will open up and the spending power they bring is sure to have long-term effects on this area’s economy.
Growing the Workforce
“Experienced Minds” helps seasoned workers acquire most-needed skills.
Dubbed “Experienced Minds,” this program is the brainchild of Citrus County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Randy Welker. With 32% of his county’s population at age 55 or above, Welker reasoned there was a ready labor pool equipped with both experience and a strong work ethic just waiting to be tapped; all they needed was an invitation and a program that would train them in the workforce skills most needed by area businesses.
With a good deal of help from Central Florida Community College, which offered its Lecanto campus as a class site, and CLM Workforce Connection, which coordinates regional employment and training services, “Experienced Minds” was off and running. Its first class of 35 students graduated in June 2008.
CLM Workforce Senior Vice President Margaret Spontak says the program fills both a niche and a need. “These people have had careers, they’ve done a lot, they have a lot of ability and they’re very hard working,” she says. “Now, they’re trained and screened, and they have acquired the skills they need to serve the companies we hope to draw to the region.”