POLK COUNTY – At the Central Florida Development Council Manufacturing Industry Breakfast Oct. 31 at Polk State Corporate College, Nucor Florida Vice President and General Manager Drew Wilcox said the corporation setting up a $240M steel mill on U.S. 27 at the Polk / Highlands county line may start hiring as early as six to eight months from now.
Polk County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve $2.25M in tax incentives earlier this year to convince Nucor leaders to build their facility in Polk County. Nucor Florida staff submitted documentation to the county commissioners stating they had plans to hire 250 people at an average wage of $66K per year. The land where the mill is to be built is still an orange grove as the permit process has yet to be completed.
Other noteworthy news to come out of the breakfast meeting came from CSX Industrial Development Manager Aubrey Brown who said he has made some successful agreements lately that will bring more rail business through the CSX Intermodal Terminal on SR60 in between Bartow and Lake Wales.
The breakfast meeting was hosted by the CFDC Competitiveness and Advocacy Committee and the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Alliance of Mid-Florida to offer area leaders a glimpse into recent manufacturing trends in Central Florida. Moderator Patti Gander of MSCA and attendees asked questions of four manufacturing leaders, Wilcox with Nucor, MaxPak General Manager Steve Wasko, Givaudan Site Director Ed Baranski and Polk State Corporate College Director Howard Drake.
Most on the panel said the biggest challenge to the manufacturing industry, in general, was finding good employees now that the industry has shifted from labor-intensive work to more computer-driven work. They mostly agreed that vocational training can lead to high paying jobs that are in demand, unlike some four-year degree training.
The panel was also mostly in agreement that their workforce was aging, and in some cases, older workers could not keep up with technology and were being replaced by younger workers, some from out of state.
Florida Senator Kelli Stargel asked how manufacturing leaders were being encouraged to pick Polk County to set up shop over places like the Space Coast. Members of the panel said location, the low cost of living in Polk County, and proximity to theme parks and beaches made it easier for businesses to pick Polk over other Florida counties.
Traffic on I4 was one of the negatives mentioned. Several spoke about the extension of the Polk Parkway to SR60 like it was already a done deal. That is news that has not been made public by politicians. Other concerns were more industry specific. Baranski mentioned citrus greening, Wasko mentioned corporate consolidation and Wilcox said he was most concerned that voters wouldn’t elect politicians who were not as business friendly.