CLEWISTON — City Manager Randy Martin, who’s been on the job here for four months now, has cogitated some firm ideas about how to stimulate this city’s economic base in that time.
He wrote an update for the community and an appeal for other new ideas last week about that major issue on many citizens’ and both city and Hendry County officials’ minds these days — building a broader and stronger tax base so as to improve the city’s infrastructure, and thus lay the groundwork for attracting redevelopment and new development.
Mr. Martin said he became intrigued about the possibilities for Clewiston during his recruitment and hiring from Virginia in July to join the city staff, because he’s focused for decades on that very goal at previous stops in his career.
“Job creation and retention, increasing private investment and improving the business climate are priority goals for a successful economic development strategy. My experience and assessment of the needs and opportunities in Clewiston have led me to recommend that the city’s economic development strategy include three major areas of emphasis to enhance the degree of achievable success,” he said.
“Regarding industrial and major business recruitment, the city must forge and build upon its strong partnership with Hendry County to further long-planned enhancements along the Sugarland Highway (U.S. 27) primary growth corridor. Specifically, the city and county must collaboratively coordinate efforts to sufficiently plan and develop the necessary infrastructure along the route from the current western boundary of the city in the vicinity of Lewis Boulevard to the vicinity of Airglades Boulevard, which provides access to the existing county-owned airport that will be the home to the Airglades International Airport project,” he wrote.
Mr. Martin believes there is new urgency about this need because the Federal Aviation Administration released its Record of Decision in September to allow the planned privatization of the airport to be concluded in 2020. “It is imperative that the city and county leverage state and possibly federal financial assistance to make the necessary infrastructure improvements a reality in a timely manner,” Mr. Martin said.
Florida’s legislature already invested the first $1 million to construct the initial segment of the wastewater utility lines from the city’s treatment plant to the airport.
“I am pleased to report that the City Commission and Hendry County Board of Commissioners have unanimously agreed to make this year’s top legislative priority a joint effort to get additional funding in the amount of $11.1 million to hopefully complete the utility infrastructure enhancements necessary to serve the Airglades project site and provide the opportunity for properties along this entire section … to also be developed with additional industrial, commercial and residential investments,” his letter continued.
Mr. Martin cited “an uptick in interest of late” for investment in the city’s Park of Commerce, which “further encourages me that the community is ripe for investment and job creation.” In turn, that’s increased curiosity about residential investment. He said that is “sorely needed to provide relief to the currently very tight housing market in Clewiston.”
He said it will also be recommended to try to create opportunities in Clewiston’s core, “specifically in some of the older sections of the city’s commercial district. The city has in the past participated in the national MainStreet program and developed a number of revitalization-type planning documents,” he noted, but the economic downturn 10 to 12 years ago “limited the positive outcomes.”
Mr. Martin said “a number of indicators suggest that the tide is turning and that opportunities for such investments are again on the rise.” He and city staff are cooperating with the Hendry County Economic Development Council, “literally dusting off old plans and carefully considering new initiatives to again put the spotlight on the need for development and redevelopment in the area.”
One of the first items being considered, he wrote, is development of what has been dubbed as a “Clewiston Entrepreneurial Incubator & Collaboratory Civic Commons Concept.” Though in the very early planning stages, the effort will seek to establish a facility that would promote business startups and expansions. The last opportunity he cited involves tourism because “water access is like gold in terms of its economic opportunity possibilities. Obviously, Lake Okeechobee is and should be a major driver in any tourism effort.”
With that in mind, Mr. Martin said, more efforts in that direction will be developed during the next year while contractors undertake the Herbert Hoover Dike cutoff wall extension that starts soon in Clewiston. The city manager welcomes input “to hopefully generate interest, ideas and feedback.”