FROSTPROOF – A citrus corporation is expanding into Frostproof, staff announced to the Frostproof City Council Nov. 4, bringing with it upward of 90 jobs.
Dispenser Packaging, Inc. founder, president and CEO H. Russell Spivey, Jr. went before the council to share the good news and received positive feedback.
“We are glad to have jobs back related to the citrus industry,” Frostproof Mayor Martin Sullivan said. “We've had some severe losses over the years and we are looking forward to putting a few people back to work over here. I'm really happy. It's great to have you guys here.”
The deal, which figures to be a boost to the local economy in southeast Polk and beyond, was an instance of one door opening after another door closed.
Months of negotiations to get the corporation to expand into Winter Haven failed when the founder could not negotiate an acceptable price to purchase a vacant 400,000 square foot space inside Logistic Park near the CSX Intermodal facility in late September.
The vacant facility is owned by GEM Realty Capital, headquartered out of Chicago.
Part of the negotiation process included putting together a $200,000 corporate tax break incentive, an incentive that was passed by the Winter Haven City Commission July 8 and the Polk County Board of County Commissioners Aug. 20. Referred to as “Project Spigot” in government documents associated with the tax break, the business founder was proposing to hire 40 high-tech employees and around another 55 support staff positions.
Winter Haven Economic Development Council staff Bruce Lyon and Julie Sands worked from January until late September on the deal, including teaming up with Central Florida Development Council staff to get the tax breaks tentatively approved.
After the first deal fell through, Spivey sought other options.
On Monday, Nov. 4, Spivey and Central Florida Development Council staff told the Frostproof City Council that Spivey had recently reached a deal with Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. staff to start leasing the vacant BHG citrus packing house in Frostproof that closed in 2017.
“We worked closely with Julie Sands, Bruce Lyons and other city leaders, and are very grateful for their efforts and their hospitality,” Spivey said. “Unfortunately, there were no other available building alternatives in Winter Haven at the time.”
Spivey said the 40 new high-tech employees, which will be paid at least $41,047 per year, would be hired by December 2022, and that the remaining employees would be hired over the next five years. The Frostproof City Council unanimously passed their share of the tax incentive package deal — $20,000 — which would be paid out over the next five years.
Spivey said he would initially be leasing space from BHG but, after the dust settles, the founder has plans to purchase some adjacent BHG property and make a $12.5 million capital investment in Frostproof.
Frostproof is a city that has long been dependent on the citrus industry, an industry that has been devastated by citrus greening, a disease infecting citrus on a global scale which became a problem in Florida in 2005.
“We had already ordered equipment that was in route from Germany, and (BHG Vice President of Citrus Marketing & Industry Relations Emery Smith) was very accommodating to provide us interim manufacturing space on short notice in his former fresh fruit packaging facility until we had more time to build a larger manufacturing facility on adjacent BHG property,” Spivey said.
Spivey is no stranger to Frostproof, first doing business there in 1989 when SYSCO was still operating there.
“In early 2018, SYSCO's Beverage Director asked us to evaluate the FDA's new sanitation guidelines to insure that all of the dispense packaging that SYSCO purchased was FDA compliant,” Spivey said. “After an extensive review, we concluded that none of the current dispense packaging in the market today met the new FDA guidelines.”
Spivey said he then filed multiple patent applications for an industry solution.
“Our expansion into BHG's former fresh fruit packaging facility will allow us to commercialize these important pending patents, and we hope to provide the same level of packaging innovation to Florida's citrus industry for many decades to come,” Spivey said.
Spivey said his innovation will affect approximately $250 million of Florida's juice concentrate sales and approximately 50,000 acres of citrus groves.
Winter Haven Economic Development Council President Bruce Lyon said that while he would have preferred Spivey's expanding business to have found an affordable home in Winter Haven, Polk County and the City of Frostproof still won the day and will benefit from Spivey's new innovation and investment.