District 5 Commissioner Tim Nance conducted a Town Hall Meeting at the Workforce Center October 8. The informative meeting touched on many of the key issues facing Collier County, and especially Immokalee. (Patty Brant/Immokalee Bulletin)
Collier County District 5 Commissioner Tim Nance’s Town Hall meeting October 8 drew Immokaleeans interested in the future of their home. The agenda was wide-ranging, from growth and planning, development and jobs, through recreation, road improvement, services, water management and CRA community efforts. Immokalee residents listened intently, raising questions about how government works and, at times, questioning if the public can really make a difference. Commissioner Nance clearly sent the message that, yes, they can make a difference, but citizens need to use their voices and their votes. He also warned the audience that change takes time. And that is just the problem for many Immokalee residents. They feel they have been patient, but are by-passed by most of the county resources. Frustration was apparent from time to time, especially over the lack of jobs. Using handouts and a display board, Commissioner Nance ran through the county’s growth management plans and how they will affect Immokalee in particular. The commissioner sees the University of Florida Southwest Florida Research and Education Center as a key factor in Immokalee’s future. He sees the rising healthy food industry as a natural fit for this area and expects Immokalee to continue to be important in the healthy fresh food industry, He sees jobs in that expansion. Along those lines, he is very excited about the Immokalee Rural Accelerator, which Governor Scott dropped from the state budget last year, but is far from being dead. Collier County renewed its request for funding of the Rural Accelerator at the Immokalee Regional Airport in its State Legislative Priorities. The facility is intended to help develop agribusiness and food products at the 5,000 sq. foot facility using UF food safety expertise where new products can be developed, and hopefully even transported. The county is requesting $5.5 million - $1.3 million for the Immokalee facility and $3.5 million for the Naples Soft Landing Accelerator. - to complete the projects, along with another $2 million to support an applied health and life sciences center and accelerator to support and develop innovative companies, technologies and products in the areas of the human genome, nutrigenomics (the influence of genetic variation on nutrition) and super foods. Collier County has not done a good job capitalizing on the important work of IFAS, the commissioner admitted. He said that local UF, FSU, iTECH facilities and the proposed accelerator will form the nucleus of what will be a very important and influential economic system - right here in Immokalee. IFAS is leading the charge against citrus greening, in support of the important local citrus industry, as well as many other local crops. All of this is potentially job creation for local people. IFAS has also expanding its local involvement with a project to discover and document water flow in and out of Lake Trafford. People were upset that the proposed Walmart has not come to fruition, believing the popular big box store would provide much-needed jobs for Immokaleeans. However, Commissioner Nance told the group that Walmart is still in discussions with Barron Collier, and the county did nothing to interfere. Whether or not a store decides to come into an area is the decision of that business alone, he said, based on factors like population. One gentleman was adamant in his criticism of the lack of local jobs. Citing Immokalee’s long standing preeminence in farming he noted, “We take care of America.” Commissioner Nance reiterated his belief that Immokaleeans need to develop industry, health, tourism businesses to provide economic health and jobs. It’s private money that will bring business and jobs to Immokalee, he said.