SEBRING — The Sebring City Council gave preliminary support this week to efforts to bring a new industry to the Sebring Airport.
Council members said they would support contributing $250,000, which would help pay for construction of a new manufacturing plant. That would be contingent on the contract terms being acceptable to the council, members said.
They want some provision that would provide for return of the money if the industry doesn’t do what it says it will do.
Council member Scott Stanley cast the only no vote, saying he doesn’t believe that’s one of the functions of government. He also noted that a lot of “loose ends” exist currently.
The effort to attract the new industry, called “Project Nitrogen,” gained steam this week when the Highlands County Commission approved $250,000 this year and $150,000 next year for the project that involves an industry that makes a component of school lunches.
Incentives include $229,000 of site work provided by Highlands County, $30,000 in engineering work, $40,000 for fill on the land, $52,000 for base material, a $250,000 in cash from Highlands County, $150,000 in cash from the Airport Community Redevelopment Agency, $150,000 in the form of a grant or a loan from the Airport CRA and $250,000 from the city of Sebring.
That’s a total of $352,000 in in-kind incentives and $650,000 in cash.
Steve Weeks, who is head of economic development for Highlands County, said that the industry planned to spend $5 million to retrofit an existing building, but could not find a vacant one suitable for its needs.
With the construction of a new metal building, the company will invest $4 million in it and Highlands County, the city of Sebring and the Sebring Airport will contribute about $1 million. The company will also invest an additional $2.5 million in equipment, Weeks said.
Mike Willingham, director of the airport, said the airport will own the building and it will be leased out to the company over a long period of time.
If the company were to shut down or not meet its commitment, the building could be leased to another company, he said.
Weeks and Willingham said they are not very concerned about that happening.
“I do think they are going to far exceed their projections,” he said, in regards to business and jobs.
The company projects that as of 2015, 65 jobs will be provided with an average salary of $34,000. The company expects that the number of workers will increase to 240 in 2019 and the payroll will increase from $2.2 million in 2015 to $8.1 million in 2019, Weeks said.