Local city leaders and business owners have joined forces to associate Plant City growth with more than strawberries.
On Monday, Nov. 9, Plant City’s Economic Development Corp. hosted its first meeting at Highland Packaging Solutions. The EDC formed in June and passed its bylaws in September.
To date, the organization has nine members on its executive committee, nine general members and 32 board members. Business leaders from Plant City who are partnered with the EDC attended the Nov. 9 meeting, and spoke about upcoming and ongoing projects in the community.
“There’s a lot of support behind this initiative,” said Plant City EDC President Jake Austin. “We have to have something that this community owns. The public sector is the yin to this private yang.”
Both business owners and EDC leaders are focused on creating sustainable growth in Plant City that brings in jobs, businesses and families, and allows existing businesses to expand.
Aaron Davis, a Plant City native and the CEO of Florida Agency Network, was the first to announce upcoming development projects in the city. Hillsborough Title, part of Florida Agency Network, is the largest title company in the state.
Davis said the company will be building a 12,000-square-foot building in Plant City. The building will have a green campus style and will include a walking track and outdoor eating areas. The project, which is a $5 million investment, will immediately bring 50 jobs to Plant City, and 100 jobs over the next five to 10 years.
Davis’ company isn’t the only one that sees Plant City as an untapped resource of growth and development. Jeff Lucas, of Central Florida Development, announced that a 100,000-square-foot building will be completed in February at the Central Florida Commerce Center.
South Florida Baptist Hospital President Karen Kerr also shared updates on the hospital’s ongoing projects, including the 13,000-square-foot critical-care center that is expected to be completed in April 2016. The project began in September.
“We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time,” Kerr said.
Other attending business owners stated the key to economic development and continued growth in Plant City is to allow for the potential to grow outside of city limits.
“You don’t create jobs if you don’t grow,” Andrew Samuel, president of Sunshine Bank, said.
Last July, Sunshine Bank had five branches and $220 million in assets. Since then, the company, which is headquartered in Plant City, has grown to 12 branches and $580 million in assets. The company has expanded to nearby cities such as Orlando and Sarasota but remains a major business in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
In the last year, the company has added 58 jobs, including 16 new positions in Plant City. The bank’s Plant City headquarters has 55 employes. $1.5 million was invested into Sunshine Bank’s building and infrastructure improvements in Plant City.
In addition, the company also processed $70 million in loans through the Plant City headquarters.
“This is our home; we have a rich legacy here,” Samuel said. “Our headquarters will remain in Plant City.”
Although Austin was named the president of the EDC in October, his official start date is Nov. 30. He currently is looking for a local office where he will focus on immediate short-term plans and a budget for the organization.
“Through our investors, both public and private, we will build a strategic plan,” he said.
Austin said he hopes more projects throughout the city will be announced at the next EDC meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, at Stingray Chevrolet.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Second Plant City EDC Meeting
WHEN: 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016
WHERE: Stingray Chevrolet, 2002 N. Frontage Road