At the August 23 regular county commission meeting, Economic Development Director Brent Kettler acquainted the board with what he hopes can be a program to help get the region headed in the right direction economically.
Hendry and Glades counties, along with Immokalee, received the federal Promise Zone designation last May and the Promise Zone Neighborhood Grant is part of that endeavor. The Southwest Florida Promise Zone is a partnership among state and local governments along with community members to overcome poverty, improve the job environment and increase economic development in this rural area.
The Neighborhood Grant takes a regional approach to economic and educational improvement.
At this time, county staff is only exploring how well this area could fit into the Neighborhood Grant program – if it can even meet requirements like the 50 percent funding match. The match can be in-kind such as materials and staff labor.
The grant has the potential of bringing up to $40 million into the area, but that would require much higher matching funds than Hendry County could afford.
However, smaller grants are also available and much more practical for this area, Mr. Kettler advised.
The grants focus on bringing community resources together, including education, public safety, human resources, housing and broadband.
Any one of the communities in this Promise Zone is eligible to apply for a Promise Zone grant.
Because this grant is coming from the Department of Education, any project submitted must address education and be focused only on one neighborhood, using date from the school system as a “driver.” A successful project could then be replicated in other areas within this Promise Zone.
According to Mr. Kettler, he has contacted a successful Promise Zone in Kentucky to glean information on the best ways to proceed.
As an educational project, it would have to have components for students from elementary level up to those entering the workforce.
The first step in deciding if this is a viable grant for Hendry County to pursue is to go through data from the school district; then to make sure the match can be met. Ten percent of the match must be from the private sector, Mr. Kettler told the board.
The application deadline is September 5. If it is determined that Hendry County cannot cover the necessary match, it will simply walk away from the grant.
Commission Chairman Michael Swindle noted that the grant could bring the county important resources. He added that the county needs to “build a good track” because the train is coming.
In the end the board voted to pursue the application.
Mr. Kettler noted that the project would focus on kids with components as they come up from elementary school through to preparing for employment and higher education. This grant could be the basis for our future.
The board approved a rezone request from RG 2m to high density commercial to allow Rosendo Vargas to set up a transportation business, including office, storage and a repair facility at 5731 SR 80W. SR 80 Corridor Overlay area restrictions will apply.
The board also unanimously approved application for a Community Development Block Grant to build 11 new homes for low to moderate income residents, including three for low income and two for very low income residents.
In other business:
The board voted to take another look at the county’s licensing requirements for the trades after hearing how one long-time electrical contractor accidentally lost his local license. The business’ Hendry license was under one brother’s name. Several years later, the surviving brother became unaware that his brother’s death nullified the local license. The business continues to be licensed in surrounding counties.
Commissioner Don Davis said a 2008 change in trade licensing had “handicapped” people in business.
County staff will prepare an ordinance to rectify such situations.