Will a proposed distribution center that has not yet even broken ground prove a source of jobs for residents of Hardee, DeSoto and Highlands counties?
Roger Hood, president and CEO of Heartland Workforce, hopes so, even though the facility — the Americas Gateway Logistic Center — will be located in Moore Haven, in Glades County.
Even if the center comes to fruition — which Hood said calls for the construction of a 30-million-square-foot distribution center — it could mean a one-way commute from a minimum of 40-plus miles, if one lives in Lake Placid, to more than 80-plus miles if one hails from Wauchula. Hood did not believe that would be a problem.
“I would assume because of the size, our residents will get jobs,” Hood said.
He further explained that Hardee, DeSoto and Highland counties, as well as Glades, Hendry and Okeechobee counties and some communities in neighboring counties, make up one of only three Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern in Florida. “The state set aside these areas because of low wages, limited infrastructure and other factors.”
The need for jobs in Hardee, DeSoto and Highlands counties, which make up Region 19 of the Florida Department of Economic Development’s 24 regions, is acute. According to the most recent census, the population is 161,073, but only 67,667 residents are in the labor force. Even excluding parents who stay at home, children and the infirm and the elderly, it still translates to approximately 94,000 people without work. The FDEC’s calculations place the average annual wage at $29,769, the lowest in Florida. Average annual wages in neighboring areas ranged between $35,596-$45,111.
As part of the proceedings of the Wednesday Heartland Workforce Joint Board Meeting, Mark Morton, vice president of Lykes Land Investments, made a presentation on “Americas Gateway Logistics Center.” This is a joint venture between Lykes Brothers and A. Duda and Sons.
According to a handout, the facility will be Florida’s premier land logistics solution, an integrated multi-model hub on 4,700 acres (with a potential additional 2,000 acres) to be located in southern central Florida. It will, said Morton, double exports coming out of Florida. He attributed it to the Panama Canal, currently undergoing widening and deepening of its locks, to accommodate modern cargo vessels.
“Florida used to be considered at the end of the supply chain,” Morton said, but no longer. “We’re the closest to the Panama Canal.”
That, said Morton, meant Florida, with its ports and air terminals, was closest to South America, east Africa, Australia and parts of Asia. In his PowerPoint presentation, he showed that while American manufacturers only export 1 percent of their goods, an overwhelming majority are located east of the Mississippi River. Morton said it makes sense for those manufacturers to ship their goods to the Americas Gateway Logistics Center, and from there ship them overseas.
However, the main concern on the minds of those in attendance was job creation. At the low end of the scale, by 2030, it was projected that 23,858 jobs would be created; these were jobs both directly and indirectly affiliated with the logistics center; of the latter it meant retail, hotels, restaurants, and jobs tied in to the trucking and shipping industries. The most likely scenario was that 64,983 jobs would be created. At its most ultimate scenario, a total of 99,556 jobs would be created by 2030.
What is RACEC?
A Rural Area Critical of Economic Concern is defined as rural communities, or a region composed of rural communities that have been adversely affected by extraordinary economic events or natural disasters.
In this region, the South Central RACEC consists of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, and the cities of Pahokee, Belle Glade, and South Bay (Palm Beach County), and Immokalee (Collier County).
The other two RACECs are Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla, and Washington counties, and the city of Freeport in Walton County in the northwest region; and Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Putnam, Suwannee, Taylor, and Union counties in the north central region.