Local News

Arrest warrant issued for former EDC head

SEBRING — An arrest warrant has been issued for the former director of the Industrial Development Authority-Economic Development Commission, Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin confirmed Monday.
Houchin said the warrant charges Kristina Anderson with third-degree grand theft. Anderson, who was terminated from her position last year, is accused of leaving her job without returning about $1,600 worth of items, including a computer and a stuffed monkey, he said. There was no immediate explanation as to why the commission office would have owned a stuffed monkey.
At the time of her termination, the commission discovered that money was misappropriated, they said back then. However, they refused to comment on any criminal investigation associated with that discovery. Houchin said he was unaware of any warrants for arrests of anyone in connection with misappropriated funds.
Stephen C. Weeks, who took over the position last November, declined to comment on the matter, but said that during the past several months, much of his time has been spent dealing with issues from when Anderson was in the position.
Weeks took over the position after Anderson was fired.
Officials with the EDC have very little to say about the investigation regarding Anderson.
John Shoop, the vice-chairman of the IDA-EDC board, said the investigation is still continuing and did not elaborate further.
Weeks said much of his job so far has been to rebuild the organization.
“The information and data we had was out of date,” Weeks said.
One of the keys, he said, is to refocus on the prime mission of the commission, which is not the same as the Sebring Chamber of Commerce or the Tourism Development Commission. The commission's main goals are to attract new industry and help existing industry expand.
“We had to get back on point,” Shoop said.
Still, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations in the community have involvement in economic development, he added.
To help existing industry expand, the EDC is working on new material that will tell businesses in the enterprise zone about help they can receive because of that, Weeks said.
The entrerprise zone generally includes the U.S. 27 corridor, downtown Sebring, the Sebring Regional Airport and some other areas.
Through expanding, those businesses gain tax benefits, he said.
While agriculture continues to be important, there's chances to get other types of industry, he said.
Sebring could become a distribution center, he said.
Weeks noted that much of the truck cargo comes from Miami, but the roads are very congested there. Even without immediate access to the Interstate system, cargo could be transported more quickly here, he said.
Weeks also rejects that this area is hurt because of its rural nature and having a smaller labor pool. But, he said, he's confident if a major company wants to come here, he can he can help find the labor.
Weeks said his effort is to find a variety of industry, but ultimately not to bring in so much development that Highlands County would become congested like Miami or other such areas.
“We need a balanced approach to business development,” he said.
One of the current projects involves a restaurant that may come to the area and bring more than 20 jobs, Weeks said.
Weeks said that although the jobs may not involve high wages, the EDC is interested in all jobs, as job seekers have varying levels of training and qualifications.
Highlands County Commissioner Jack Richie said he believes the EDC is moving in the right direction.
Regional cooperation is also important for economic development, he said.
“We cannot survive by ourselves,” he said.