Advanced manufacturing and the high-skill, high-wage jobs that come with it are finding their way to Polk County, further diversifying the economy and elevating wages.

Winter Haven sold 77 acres of surplus land to Florida Can Manufacturing for $3.3 million so the Miami company, which also owns Florida Caribbean Distillers, a manufacturing and distilling company in Lake Alfred, can start building a $120+ million plant to manufacture aluminum cans.

The plant will use city utilities, generating revenue. Taxable value will be about $80 million in Phase 1, said Eric Labbe, Winter Haven’s director of Economic Opportunity & Community Investment.

“Florida Can Manufacturing’s investment in Winter Haven is exactly the type of project and job creation that we need at this time,” said Bruce Lyon, president of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council. “We anticipate over 275 construction jobs and 160 new permanent jobs with the first phase of their project.”

Now more than ever, growth is imperative.

“These jobs are coming at a critical time for Winter Haven, and we couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to work with Florida Can Manufacturing, as well as the new economic development opportunities that this project is revealing,” Lyon said.

Labbe said some sectors of the economy may take some time to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, so “any good-paying jobs that we can insert into the local economy is critically important to our residents’ quality of life.”

Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Katie Worthington Decker said Polk County is an attractive place for advanced manufacturing companies — those that use innovative technologies.

“We have a pro-growth, collaborative business climate. We have the availability of affordable land and we can meet the workforce needs of their companies,” she said. “We also have the support of post-secondary educational opportunities like Polk State College that can tailor programs to meet the needs of the advanced manufacturing sector.”

An Investment in the Future

Phase 1 will include about 300,000 square feet, scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2021; final buildout is projected between 800,000 and 1 million square feet, Labbe said.

“We do not yet know the timing of future phases as that is largely driven upon market demand for the aluminum cans.  However, Florida Can representatives have stated that they believe the market for aluminum cans will only grow as people are trending away from disposable plastic containers. Aluminum is much easier to recycle and reuse and therefore more environmentally friendly than plastic.”

Florida Can operates a manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico and approached Winter Haven to find a site in the United States to expand its capacity to meet global demands, Labbe said.

At least 110 of the new jobs will pay above the median Polk County wage, Labbe said. “Complete buildout is projected to bring over 500 new jobs. New high-tech manufacturing jobs will diversify our economy and promote economic resiliency.”

Winter Haven works with the city’s Economic Development Council and chamber, along with the Central Florida Development Council, to pursue any private investment leads and assist with any incentives that may be available at the county or state level, Labbe said.

It also evaluates its ability to incentivize private investment by:

  • Reviewing its development codes.
  • Finding opportunities in Community Redevelopment Districts or targeted development zones, such as the Industrial development zones or the CORE Improvement area.
  • And “generally doing all we can to provide excellent service to those who wish to invest in Winter Haven’s future.”

Labbe said many people were involved in this project. “There were many critical items that needed to be done in order for this project to become a reality. … Everyone was pulling in the same direction with the support of the City Commission. This is a great project for the city.”

Developing the ILC

Florida Can will construct its facility just northwest of the Intermodal Logistics Center and just south of the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant #3, Labbe said.

“Development of this area for manufacturing uses was strategically planned and critically important to the local economy.  The site is located within a Federally Designated Opportunity Zone, allowing for the investment of private capital into areas of needed job growth, and an Industrial Development Zone, a local designation that identified those areas of the city that are most appropriate for industrial development.”

Worthington Decker said, “The area around the ILC is primed for growth for advanced manufacturing, especially those firms that use rail for delivery of their raw materials or shipment of their finished product.”

But companies need to find the right piece of land at the right price.

“I commend the outside-of-the-box thinking of the WHEDC and the city of Winter Haven on using the city’s excess property to expand the land available for development in that area for this project. This project will be the catalyst for needed roadway infrastructure in the area as well as broadband expansion.”