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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Plant City poised to capitalize on untapped business district

— It has been more than a decade since some serious buzz began about an impending economic burst on the Hillsborough side of County Line Road.

But while Polk County’s segment of the roadway developed — think distribution centers for Publix Supermarkets, Amazon and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts — the west side of County Line Road has remained relatively quiet.

That’s all about to change. Plant City has annexed hundreds of acres in the corridor over the past decade or so and is now extending utilities to an unserved portion of that area. The city has also cleared old industrial buildings from its midtown area and is on a mission to grow jobs.

Business leaders are planning a big splash to make sure the word gets out. An economic forum scheduled for May 6 will showcase all of the business opportunities available in this area, including the land in the midtown area.

Planning for its economic future, the city, back in 1990, annexed 750 acres on County Line Road from Interstate 4 south to Rice Road. Then, in 2007, it annexed another 243 acres south of there. Just last month, the City Commission voted to spend $3.5 million to extend water and sewer lines to the southern end.

A developer is already constructing a massive spec warehouse on County Line Road — the first speculative building to go up in that area in 25 years — and has plans to build two more on the same site and seven others nearby. An office complex is also coming.

The economic forum will highlight Plant City’s potential as a commercial and industrial business location in the heart of Central Florida’s booming I-4 Corridor, according to its website. It will also highlight property available in Plant City’s business district. The city, the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. are hosting it.

Named Plant City Right Now, the forum takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Hillsborough Community College’s Trinkle Center, 1206 N. Park Road, Plant City. It is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.

Real estate investors and developers, engineers, government officials and others will come together to hear from area leaders on why they should invest in Plant City for warehouses, manufacturing and other businesses. And forum leaders will talk up what makes the I-4 Corridor special — easy access to two interstates and a rail system that can help them move goods quickly.

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County Line Road was first targeted for business development in the early 1980s when developers broke ground for a 2 million square-foot industrial park on the Polk County side of an otherwise long stretch of farm fields and former phosphate mining lands. By 1990 the road that separates the counties would finally connect State Road 60 with Interstate 4.

Today, with numerous warehouse and distribution sites, Polk County has just a 4 percent vacancy rate along the busy I-4 corridor, said Larry Richey, Florida Market Leader for commercial real estate brokers Cushman & Wakefield. “Much of it has been driven by the transportation advantages of being in that corridor.

“The Lakeland industrial warehouse market is one of the top performing in terms of occupancy and healthiness,” Richey said. And that low vacancy rate bodes well for expected growth on the Hillsborough County side, he said.

Accessibility is what drew in CFD, the company building a 100,000 square-foot spec building that can be built out for warehouse or office use, said company President Rich LeFrois. A tenant in one of his buildings on the Polk side, Excel-Genesis, distributes to 7-Eleven stores from south of Jacksonville to Stuart on the east coast and down to Fort Myers. Trucks go out full every night and return every morning to restock with fresh foods. “That’s the beauty of this location,” LeFrois said.

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With water and sewer lines coming south of Rice Road, acreage that has sat vacant for years on the Hillsborough side will become a lot more desirable, said Mike Herr, city manager for Plant City. He said the pipelines should be ready for hook-up by February 2016.

“County Line Road is one of the hottest corridors in Central Florida and our city stands to benefit greatly by this decision,” Herr said.

The timing is certainly right, Cushman & Wakefield’s Richey said. “The job growth we are seeing today is approaching the height of job growth we had in that 2001 to 2007 time frame, driven across the board by warehouse and manufacturing, office- and retail-related employment growth.”

And e-commerce is on the upswing, he said, not just for Amazon, but for numerous companies that can sell directly from their distribution centers, he said. “What happened in Lakeland can happen in Plant City.”

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“We’re definitely taking advantage in the uptick in development,” Herr said. “There are significant land assemblies very conducive to warehouse distribution, logistics and supply chain management kinds of businesses.”

Lakeland-based CFD purchased about 300 acres a decade or so ago, then waited.

“There is an increased demand in the market and industrial users have expressed interest in moving to newer, more efficient buildings,” LeFrois said. He believes constructing the spec buildings with flexible use is the way to go.

“We feel like this area is ground zero for industrial users in the state of Florida,” said CFD representative Jeff Lucas. “Interest has been very good. We’ve had a lot of activity on the building and have already leased 15,000 square feet. It’s pretty major,” he said, but declined to name the client at their request.

The company also has hotel and restaurant sites up against I-4 and plans for a restaurant and gas station adjacent to the warehouse/office buildings at U.S. 92 and County Line Road. “This is our focus, along the I-4 Corridor,” Lucas said.

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Shift over to Midtown Plant City, a “development on the horizon,” Herr said. The city just opened Village Green Park in that area and has land available for a mixed-use village.

“We want to create new jobs so we can have a more sustainable community,” Herr said. “We offer expedited permitting and appropriate incentives if businesses are qualified. And we are helping existing businesses to expand.”

Adam Myers, an employee of the economic development corporation, now works most of the week in Plant City to accommodate job growth. His salary is paid by the city and by Tampa Electric Co., which is also working to build business in that area for its own purposes.

James Hardie Industries, which manufactures fiber cement building products, benefitted from the city’s expedited permitting process when its request to add 100,000 square feet got moved through quickly, Myers said.

“Hardie added on $80 million in capital investment for new construction.” And because the city had stopped charging an impact fee on development per square foot, Hardie saved about $37,000 just from that, Myers said.

He said the city has also obtained several state grants through the Department of Transportation that have helped local businesses. In one instance, the grant money paid for a switch and track improvements on a rail spur leading to Highland Packing and Gordon Food Services.

“Plant City, in many ways, has different economic drivers than Tampa and the more urbanized parts of Hillsborough County,” said Rick Homans, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. Where Tampa may draw businesses in the sciences, financial and shared services, Plant City requires a different emphasis, he said.

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