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October 20, 2018

The Regions

Heartland: Great Benefits, Room to Grow

Find rural incentives and urban resources in Florida's Heartland.

Gary Shepherd | 9/1/2006

When Bill Tamayo and his partners in American Concrete Tile Inc. looked for a site for their new roof tile manufacturing plant, he says, "We needed excellent transportation to Sarasota, Fort Myers and markets throughout Florida." The businessmen focused their search on Florida's Heartland-- 5,000 square miles covering six South Central Florida counties.

In DeSoto County they discovered a splendid business environment and very helpful government officials. "We've had great cooperation from the county," says Tamayo. He aims to tap into some of many special tax and workforce advantages offered region-wide, such as the state Enterprise Zone tax incentives available in each Heartland county.

DeSoto's excellent transportation system includes U.S. Highway 17 and State Roads 70 and 72; Interstate 75 is a short drive away. Three international airports and two seaports are nearby, too, and DeSoto is served by two rail systems.

In short, DeSoto has everything American Concrete Tile needs. DeSoto County commissioners approved plans for a 41,000-square-foot plant on 19 acres, and the new facility will have about 35 employees when it opens in 2007.

Facts & Figures
Population 249,837
Labor Force 99,619
Households 87,700
AVG Household EBI $38, 653
Consumer Spending $3.31 bil.
Total Retail Sales $2.30 bil.

- South Florida Community College ______________________________

- LaBelle Municipa
- Airport
- Okeechobee County Airport
- Sebring Regional Airport ______________________________

Source: U.S. Census Bureau; Demographics USA 2005, TradeDimensions International Inc.; Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. EBI = effective buying/disposable income

The new business has good company: A 700-employee, $40 million Wal-Mart Distribution Center recently opened in DeSoto. Infrastructure for that project came from Florida's Rural Infrastructure and Economic Development Transportation Funds. "Wal-Mart is very fortunate to have such a great working relationship and support both at the local and state level in Florida," says Larry Mahoney, regional vice-president/logistics for the retail giant.

Also new are a Holiday Inn Express, with 63 rooms and space for 20 more, and a Chili's Grill & Bar. DeSoto Memorial Hospital is undergoing major expansion after receiving a $20 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture--the largest Community Facilities Direct Loan in USDA Rural Development history.


Best of all worlds

The Heartland is a tranquil rural region where enterprise is always welcome and bigcity resources are nearby. More than 85% of Florida's population lives within 150 miles of the Heartland, making this a potential market of 12 million people.

Higher education options are widely available. More than 25,000 people annually take part in programs and services through 40-year-old South Florida Community College in DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties. Based in Avon Park in Highlands, SFCC has satellite centers in Wauchula, Lake Placid and Arcadia and offers continuing workforce education courses at several other locations.

Also, Indian River Community College, Edison College and Palm Beach Community College have Heartland satellite campuses. Florida Gulf Coast University, the state's newest fouryear university, is in nearby Fort Myers. Vocational-technical schools and private institutions round out educational offerings.

A key facility is Sebring Regional Airport in Highlands, the largest Heartland county with a population of approximately 95,000. Sebring Regional has an economic impact of well over $200 million annually and a payroll of $12 million, says Mike Willingham, executive director of the Sebring Airport Authority. The airport was named in the State Aviation System Plan as the growth airport for south central Florida.

Sebring has Florida's first airportcentered Community Redevelopment Agency; the CRA can provide financing assistance and other incentives to businesses leasing land and building facilities on airport property and at its commerce park. The entire airport is a foreign trade zone, and Sebring Regional recently expanded, buying 1,000 additional contiguous acres; it now occupies nearly 2,800 acres.

The airport and commerce park are home to a wide array of businesses, including drainage pipe manufacturers, food packagers, aircraft builders and repair firms, distributors, auto testing and racing operations and cattle farmers. One new company operating at the airport is Funder America, a manufacturer of melamine-laminated particleboard.

Funder has 50-plus employees at its new 60,000-square-foot plant. The $8.5 million project received a state Rural Infrastructure Fund Grant of $440,000 for storm water retention work. The airport also worked with federal and local partners to fund another $1 million for infrastructure for the Funder America project. "It is the most modern manufacturing facility in the region," says Willingham.

Also new at Sebring Regional is Concrete Building Projects, where about 50 employees make pre-stressed products at a 10-acre site. E-Stone USA Corp., the U.S. arm of Italy-based Trend Group SpA, tapped a variety of incentives when it recently opened a 150-employee plant to manufacture granite products at the airport.

Tags: Central, Agriculture, Business Services, Business Florida

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