Future of Immokalee takes a giant leap forward

The future of Immokalee took a giant leap forward December 16 when the Collier County Planning Commission held an unprecedented public workshop on Immokalee’s Master Plan.

Fred Thomas, chairman of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency’s advisory board and one of the leading visionaries developing the plan for Immokalee’s future said he was pleased with the county planners’ effort.

“They asked a lot of good questions,” Thomas said. “Immokaleans turned out well to show support. I think it moved the process forward and well.”

The plan is scheduled for approval by the planning commission and the Collier County Board of Commissioners in early 2010.

Once adopted, the plan will change forever the face of Immokalee and make it the future of Florida in the 21st Century. It will be the culmination of nearly seven years of planning. 

From the beginning the master planning process assessed the region’s strengths to determine what industries can thrive here. In addition to a young workforce and available land, Immokalee has a strong partnership with the schools and colleges, an airport with an international trade zone, and significant incentive programs already in place that make us attractive as a regional, national and international commercial trade hub.

It has a long history producing agricultural products, which can make it attractive to agribusinesses.
If the community addresses the need for attractive public spaces and cultural events, the Seminole Casino and the ecological wonders of Lake Trafford and the Corkscrew Swamp can draw tourists and build our tourism industry — hotels, entertainment and recreation opportunities, restaurants and outdoor cafes.

Growth of the construction industry will come hand-in-hand with economic growth in other sectors as the demand for commercial, industrial, and residential space grows and the economy rebounds.

These businesses — international trade and distribution, green and high-tech industries, agribusiness, tourism, and construction — are good fits for Immokalee and will become the focus of the future. .

Immokalee’s leaders understand the community is competing with other communities and Florida counties. Companies considering Immokalee for a new home will evaluate if they can find or quickly develop adequate space and infrastructure. They will assess how supportive and cooperative the local government is; the availability of a reliable, skilled workforce; and whether the community is one where current employees would like to live. They will weigh what Immokalee and Collier County have to offer and how long it takes to get things done.

The Master Plan lays out several steps that government agencies, local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, and other groups should take to make the region business-ready and business-friendly.

Here’s what needs to be done:

  • Government agencies can address land use issues, streamline and expedite the approval processes, provide technical assistance, and align incentives and bonuses with planning goals. In some cases, government can provide funding or partner with private entities for funding streams. These changes can take as much as three years, but time is money. To expedite change, interim land development codes are in the pipeline for approval early next year. In addition, we’ve developed a program to reimburse businesses up to 50% of the Impact Fees. 
  • Our educational institutions, businesses, and Workforce Development Board can collaborate to strengthen our workforce by improving high school graduation rates and by providing convenient and affordable opportunities for adults to complete their high school education and pursue job skills training. A strong partnership has already begun to bring results like the new technical high school, iTech.
  • Together, we can make the community an attractive home for skilled workers, management, and their families and an interesting destination for tourists by upgrading Main Street, cleaning our streets and vacant lots, developing recreation centers, improving the housing stock, and dealing with other quality of life issues. The CRA has already introduced a Commercial Façade Improvement Program and community groups are planning volunteer clean-up efforts.
  • State, County, and local agencies with responsibility for infrastructure components like traffic and transportation, sewers, and storm water management, can move quickly to secure public and investor funding to implement improvements already planned. And, we need to prepare other projects now in anticipation of the economy improving or Phase 2 stimulus package funding that might become available.

Finally, we can join hands to market Immokalee’s commercial, industrial, and tourism opportunities. The Chamber of Commerce, the Merchants Associations, Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency, and the State of Florida must proactively sell the benefits of doing business here. Every resident must become an Immokalee ambassador, ensuring our neighborhoods are attractive and inviting, encouraging our families and friends to visit, and providing a warm welcome to the tourists who bring us business and jobs.
 

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