Florida’s South Central region offers expanding companies the best of two worlds, a natural, relaxing environment plus extraordinary accessibility to multiple metropolitan areas, international airports and seaports. Here, where cattle lands, citrus groves, sugar cane fields and subtropical foliage still dominate the landscape, residents strive to preserve the ambiance of “Old Florida” while actively courting forward-minded companies seeking affordable land and room to grow.
With its mid-state location, South Central is ideal for manufacturing and product distribution, and its wide-open spaces appeal to renewable energy providers. Three interstate highways, Florida’s Turnpike, four U.S. highways and 12 state roads traverse the region or pass near it, providing convenient links to key Florida cities and to important markets throughout the Southeast. Additionally, this region is bisected by the Okeechobee Waterway, a system of navigable rivers and canals linking Florida’s east and west coasts through Lake Okeechobee.
WHO LIVES HERE
28.5% of South Central’s more than 253,000 residents are Hispanic; Hendry County has the region’s largest Hispanic population — 49.5%.
Well located, wide-open
Thanks to its centralized location in Florida’s heartland, South Central can boast that approximately 85% of the state’s entire population is within a 150-mile radius. Yet this region remains one of Florida’s least crowded. Average population density across the six counties is just 49.6 persons per square mile compared to 350.6 across the entire state.
• FPL Group operates the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center — the nation’s largest photovoltaic solar facility — in Arcadia; 90,000 solar panels generate 42,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually.
• In June 2012, California-based LS9 Inc. opened its advanced biodiesel plant in Okeechobee. Housed in a facility retrofitted to accommodate LS9’s proprietary, one-step fermentation process for converting renewable raw materials into “Ultra-Clean Diesel” fuel, the plant’s purpose is to generate samples for testing and to serve as a demonstration facility for bringing low-cost, low-carbon fuels, such as biodiesel, to market.
• Highlands EnviroFuels, which aims to make 30 million gallons per year of advanced biofuel ethanol from sweet sorghum and sugar cane, will break ground in late 2012 on its plant near Lake Placid in Highlands County. To date, nine local growers have invested in the project, which is expected to generate approximately 60 high-paying permanent jobs.
• Florida landowners Lykes Bros. Inc. and A. Duda & Sons have hired the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield to begin marketing the logistics center they plan to build on 4,700 acres near Moore Haven in Glades County. Sited to take advantage of the region’s easy access to rail, road and deepwater port connections, the project will include 30 million square feet of distribution, warehouse and manufacturing facilities.
• A modification to the Foreign Trade Zone Act is making it possible for Sebring Regional Airport to streamline its FTZ application/approval process. As a result, warehousing and distribution operations in South Central’s six counties, plus the cities of Belle Glade and Pahokee, will be able to secure FTZ status in approximately 30 days from date of application; manufacturing companies may be approved in as quickly as 75 days. Prior to this change, companies could anticipate a wait time of up to one year for FTZ status.
National Solar Power (NSP) announced plans in November 2011 to build a 200-megawatt solar farm in Hardee County. The $700-million project, to be located near the Avon Park Executive Airport, is expected to create 200 jobs during the five-year construction phase and up to 50 permanent operations jobs. Reasons for choosing Hardee County, according to National Solar CEO James Scrivener: ample available property and easy access to both the electric grid and nearby population centers. NSP is also building two solar farms in Florida’s Northwest region.
• Agero Inc. - Sebring
• Walmart Distribution Center - Arcadia
• Walpole Inc. - Okeechobee
• Larson Dairy Inc. - Okeechobee
• Lykes Brothers Inc. - Glades County
• The Mosaic Company - Wauchula
• Southern Gardens Citrus - Clewiston
• United States Sugar Corporation - Clewiston
QUALITY OF LIFE
South Central’s small towns play host to special events you won’t find elsewhere: The All-Florida Championship Rodeo (Arcadia); Chalo Nitka Festival and Rodeo, featuring Seminole arts and crafts and alligator wrestling (Moore Haven); Pioneer Park Days (Zolfo Springs); Sugar Festival (Clewiston); and Swamp Cabbage Festival (Labelle). For racing enthusiasts, there’s Sebring International Raceway, the oldest permanent road track in America, and in Okeechobee County, the OK Corral Gun Club, with shotgun, rifle and pistol ranges, a sporting clays course and 3-D archery area.
Getting back to nature
Ecotourism is a preferred “sport” in Florida’s heartland, which is home to Lake Okeechobee — the nation’s second largest freshwater lake — plus dozens of smaller lakes and one of Florida’s oldest parks, Highlands State Park, circa 1931. World-class fishing, bird watching, camping and small game hunting are favorite region-wide pastimes.