OKEECHOBEE — A review of economic development efforts in Okeechobee highlighted the agenda Tuesday night when the Okeechobee City Council held their first meeting of the year at City Hall.
A number of Land Development Regulation text amendments were approved after a public hearing, without any comments from the public.
The council included the use of a sober home and alcohol and or drug rehabilitation facilities as a special exception in commercial zoning.
Planner Bill Brisson explained the proposal came out of requests to interpret certain uses from city staff.
An indoor auction house will also be allowed as special exception in commercial zoning.
In other actions, Mayor Jim Kirk presented a 10-year longevity service award to Detective Jack Boon of the Okeechobee City Police Department.
Okeechobee County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development director John Gurney issued a report on recent economic activity in the community.
He said things have kept him very busy since he took the job. In November he visited Dallas Texas with the Research Coast Economic Coalition to meet with site selectors and communities that need to attract large employers.
“It is always better to present as a region because site selectors consider the entire country,” he noted.
The site selectors cared most about the number of potential employers who live within an hour of the community, the amount of buildable land and existing buildings.
The site selectors also use unemployment rates and median wages to determine where they should locate.
“A high unemployment rate and low median income shows a lack of skilled workers in a community in the eyes of site selectors,” he added.
Mr. Gurney also attended the Florida Rural Economic Development Summit in Orlando. He learned the trend is to move away from South Florida and from coastal areas.
He said the three main hurdles Okeechobee faces are the lack of a skilled workforce, no searchable inventory for available properties and a lack of strong tax incentives.
There is also an effort to create a program at the high school to better engage students in careers. They will work with the Heartland Career Source to work on resume writing, interview skills, and other workshops.
Enterprise Florida has a website that lists commercial and industrial-zoned properties in the state. Until now Okeechobee had no property on the list.
After research Gurney found over 900 available properties in Okeechobee that could qualify for that list.
Projects that are being considered for Okeechobee include the Okeechobee Town Centre project on South Parrott Avenue that could include high-end stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond. Other projects include discussion of a truck stop, a bakery on demand at IRSC, the Guy Harvey and Elite Resorts project, a green energy biomass company, a fertilizer pellets manufacturer, Harbor Freight Tools, a manufacturer of medical equipment, and AEGEA World Resort. There is also a need for a building to house a boat and RV Refurbish and Resale Company.
Other projects being pursued this year are a CSX freight facility where trains can be loaded and unloaded in Okeechobee. He also wants a list of property in the city commerce center to market to potential companies. Council member Gary Ritter said he would like a list of target companies for the community so IRSC can focus their programs on the skilled workers these types of companies need. Every single expert at the summit said Florida’s rural counties are ripe for development.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News