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FGCU announces agribusiness center, plans for minor

Florida Gulf Coast University’s (FGCU) Lutgert College of Business is deepening its connection with agriculture through the creation of a new Center for Agribusiness and a proposed agribusiness minor.

The Center for Agribusiness will serve as a resource for the agriculture industry in Southwest Florida. It will track and distribute information regarding the economic impact and sustainability of agriculture. The Center will also offer educational programs focusing on supply chain management, finance, management and marketing within the industry.

“As a great regional university, FGCU is committed to connecting with and serving the leading sectors of Southwest Florida’s economy. Agribusiness certainly fits this criteria,” said FGCU President Mike Martin. “We want every FGCU student who sees a career in agribusiness to have the opportunity to do so.  And we want all FGCU students to appreciate the significance of agriculture and agribusiness to the region’s future.”

The proposed agribusiness minor is intended to provide students with the knowledge needed to support all the business functions across the agriculture industry. The minor could be offered as early as spring 2019.

“These programs will give the agriculture industry a resource to find finance, accounting or human resources graduates, for example, who not only have their core competency in business but also an understanding of agriculture,” said H. Shelton Weeks, chair of the department of economics & finance in the Lutgert College of Business.

The announcement of the new center and minor came Wednesday, Aug. 15, at the Gulf Citrus Growers Association’s Citrus Celebration in Alico Arena.

“The different companies that are actively engaged in agriculture in Southwest Florida need to have mid-level management training and some of the business skills – accounting, management, personnel – a lot of the things that go above and beyond growing the products and growing the crops,” said Ron Hamel, the retiring executive vice president and general manager of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association. “Part of the role of the Center is to educate and help train students who want to have a future in agribusiness.”

FGCU President Mike Martin (center) announced the new Center for Agribusiness at the Gulf Citrus Growers Association’s Citrus Celebration.
(L-R) Shelton Weeks, chair, department of economics & finance, Lutgert College of Business; Vivek Bhargava, associate dean, Lutgert College of Business; Tim Allen, Alico chair, financial management; Ben Hill Griffin III, chairman, Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.; Mike Martin, president, FGCU; W. Bernard “Bernie” Lester, retired president, Alico, Inc.; Ron Hamel, retiring executive vice president and general manager, Gulf Citrus Growers Association; Stuart Van Auken, Alico chair, market analysis and development; Matthew Sheep, acting associate dean, Lutgert College of Business

Hamel, who will work with the university as an adviser on agribusiness, indicated the Center would also provide educational opportunities beyond the traditional classroom. He believes “existing businesses need training for individuals who know how to grow crops but don’t have some of the business skills you need to be a good manager.”

The director of the Center for Agribusiness is Fritz Roka, effective Aug. 27. Roka joins FGCU after spending the last 23 years at the University of Florida. Since 2002, Roka has been an associate professor of agricultural economics. His new role will keep him in constant contact with the agribusiness and agriculture communities.

“With Dr. Roka as its director, the Center for Agribusiness is going to fill an important need for the Southwest Florida agribusiness community,” said Vivek Bhargava, associate dean of the Lutgert College of Business in which the Center will be located. “Ever since the university opened, we’ve had support from the agribusiness community, and they have wanted something like this.”

The Center for Agribusiness is linked to the founding of Florida Gulf Coast University. In 1995, Alico, Inc., under the leadership of then-chairman Ben Hill Griffin III, donated $1.2 million for the creation of three chaired professorships known as the “Alico chairs.” The chairs were meant “to provide new strengths for the managers and executives who will lead this economy forward,” according to a 1999 proposal detailing the positions. It was further noted that agribusiness would benefit from students who studied under these three chairs.

Griffin said the Center for Agribusiness is something he has wanted to see at FGCU.

“That’s why we as Alico – when I was chairman of the board of Alico – we set up these three chairs to support agriculture,” Griffin said. “[I’m] just glad to see it’s taking growth and going to provide educational opportunities for these students.”

While two of the Alico chairs were named in honor of Griffin and his father, the third recognizes W. Bernard “Bernie” Lester. Lester served on the FGCU Board of Trustees from 2001-10 and is an FGCU Foundation Fellow. He sees the new center as a “real plus” for the community and the agriculture industry.

“The establishment by Dr. Martin of the agribusiness center and the rejuvenation of the three Alico chairs, is a good addition to the university as agribusiness is a major contributor to the region’s economy,” said Lester.

For more information about the Center for Agribusiness or the proposed agribusiness minor, contact Vivek Bhargava at vbhargava@fgcu.edu.

This story is from FGCU News.