Weekend Editorial: Duke Energy, the Suncoast Region, and economic development

Economic Development
Photo Credit: Lou Newman/Suncoast Standard

Economic development is a buzzword nowadays. Media agencies, elected officials, and candidates all mention how it’s needed to improve the Suncoast Region’s economy. The concept of attracting outside companies not averse to paying higher-than-normal wages to our local area isn’t a new one.

In Citrus County, for example, over the last ten years, concepts such as the 491 Medical Corridor, Port Citrus, and the formation of the private Economic Development Authority of Citrus County have failed to do what such efforts were designed to do.

When you tally up financial contributions made by Duke Energy to the Citrus Chamber of Commerce and to the EDACC, and the various public expenditures on yearly renewal fees of regional economic development agencies, port registration renewal fees, studies, and consultants over the last decade, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours have been spent without netting many success stories.

In the field of economic development, site selection and promotion is key, as is intermodal connections, speculative warehousing facilities, and a skilled and well-trained workforce.

Citrus County will not win site selection battles fought at regional and national trade shows and conferences even if the County eventually decides to hire an economic development agency or an individual to promote existing sites. Facing the existing infrastructure found in larger Florida cities, such as Jacksonville and Tampa, even the most effective salesperson or connected person or group would most likely fail to achieve success.

But, there’s hope. And, new ideas. And, new people making them. And, the antiquated site selection model for economic development hasn’t worked in the past so here’s some new ideas.

Citrus County leaders can start by lobbying Duke Energy, our local elected State officials, and the federal government to convince and assist Duke Energy Florida in designing and implementing a solar-based electricity-generating plant on the same grounds that house the old nuclear plant, coal plants, and new combined natural-gas facility. On a previous tour with Heather Danenhower, Communications Director for Duke Energy Florida, the property for such a plant is potentially already in place.

The advantage of such a development is that Duke Energy’s Crystal River complex would then house all four major types of energy production. Not only could long-term energy rates for businesses and consumers become more stable in the long-term, but Crystal River would represent one of the few places in the world, if not the only place in the world, where all four types of plants are conveniently placed. Duke Energy could then establish or partner with another energy giant or an educational institution to construct a specialized institute facility or college focused on offering advanced courses designed to train the next generation of energy industry workers. That could help with the local skilled workers issue.

Then, we need to focus like a laser beam on fiber optic networks. Pun intended. Citrus County has started this process in investing in a fiber optic connection in the Inverness Industrial Park by the airport, and, also with the planners of the Suncoast Parkway 2, where 13-16 miles of fiber optic conduit are set to be placed in a cooperative open trenching agreement. Local vendors such as Century Link, Inverness-based Likwid Communications, and Spectrum could be tapped to establish additional pockets of connectivity, not only in industrial parks, but in public parks, other governmental facilities, and even in business incubators.

Citrus County Administrator, Randy Oliver, has a track record of forming business incubators. If made to be a priority, he could find a good use of existing rundown and vacant strip plazas in Citrus County and establish incubators in both Crystal River and Inverness. They can even be named after Duke Energy depending on sponsorship negotiations.

In Hernando County, the Administrator, Lee Sossamon, is directly responsible for Economic Development. Perhaps the Citrus County BOCC should ask Oliver to wear another hat, especially since the Board has sought an Economic Development Director since late-March and Oliver is ultimately responsible for filling such a position. Or, perhaps just ask him to be an interim director until he settles on a more permanent solution.

Citrus County and the Suncoast Region can talk about economic development until the cows come home.

But, until new ideas are adopted and sought, such as a solar plant, business incubators, pocket formations of new fiber optic networks, and a specialized institute of higher learning, become commonplace topics of discussion, and plans are both adopted and implemented to develop such ideas, economic development will remain what it has always been in Citrus County and other areas of the Suncoast region- just talk and a sad waste of time and money.

Feel free to share this article or like our FB page by clicking this link.

Submitted by Lou Newman, Publisher, on October 21, 2017 at 2:17 PM

Suncoast Standard (c) 2016-2017. All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply