By TED CARTER

Arcadian Business Correspondent

A Delray Beach agri-tech company’s planned east DeSoto County plant for converting citrus peels and other juice-making leftovers to pectin got a unanimous nod Tuesday from county commissioners for up to $1.5 million in county tax waivers over 10 years.

Nuco Citrus LLC’s planned $125 million investment in the plant and its expected initial labor force of more than 107 workers represent DeSoto’s first large economic development project since Hurricane Charley devastated the county in 2004. Hurricane Irma in 2017 added to those woes.

Commissioners see the project as especially valuable in its targeting of agriculture, an economic segment that accounts for 25 percent of DeSoto’s economy but has been greatly diminished by citrus greening disease and the more recent hurricane.

In the deal, DeSoto County gets transformation of nearly 200 acres of pasture land into a $100 million economic engine, said Commissioner J.C. Deriso and others on the governing board. Nuco expects early success will bring a cluster of related agricultural businesses over time.

With awarding the tax incentives, commissioners are “trading investment in our community for jobs,” Deriso said.

The resolution granting the tax breaks specifies an average private-sector “wage commitment” of 150 percent of the county’s average annual wage. The county’s median household income in 2017 was $35,435. That marked a decrease from $35,675 the year before.

County officials have cited rank-and-file worker wages of between $20 and $25 an hour.

The Delray Beach pectin-producer can earn a percentage county rebate, if full taxes are paid over the decade, DeSoto Administrator Mandy Hines said at Tuesday’s meeting.

More specifically, under the “Qualified Target Industry Business” incentive, Nuco can offset as much as $150,000 a year from its tax bill over 10 years. County officials a few months ago projected Nuco’s annual tax bill would be around $4 million. The taxes are assessed on equipment and other assets.

Nuco CEO Frederick Beckett welcomed the tax incentives, advising commissioners that plant construction along State Road 72 is slated for ground-breaking into September or October, the plant operational into 2020. “Things are progressing quickly,” Beckett said, noting that future sales on pectin products are strong.

Nuco has “sold 70 percent of what we haven’t made yet,” he said. “Didn’t think you could do that,” and added that real estate closings for the development have not yet been completed.

Nuco represents an undertaking the county began two years ago in competing with Georgia and California sites for the $100 million project. The privately owned Nuco says it was drawn to the county by its proximity to highways in all directions and a regional citrus industry eager to make extra money through providing Nuco the byproducts of its processing.

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