IMMOKALEE — Immokalee is among five communities in the running for a project that could convert landscaping and other waste materials into usable resources.
A Wisconsin-based resource development company called Growth Design Corp. has expressed an interest in the area to make use of its abundant renewable energy resources.
"Collier County and specifically Immokalee have significant waste resources that need processing and match our second-generation technologies," said Byron Tweeten, chairman and chief executive officer of Growth Design Corp. "There also are financial incentives related to business development and employment."
Immokalee is being considered for an Organic Agriculture-Renewable Energy Project demonstration to showcase renewable energy and organic agriculture, which supporters also believe will stimulate economic growth, including job creation.
Other areas in the running are Oregon City, Ore.; Seward, Neb.; Mt. Valley, Iowa; and Columbus, Ohio. Growth Design Corp. has offices in Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida.
Tweeten isn't unfamiliar with Immokalee – in addition to being a third-generation Iowa farmer and businessman, he is a part-time Naples resident. He is committed to the energy side of the project but also excited about the possibility of bringing more economic stability to Immokalee.
"Citizens of Immokalee have potential to qualify for good jobs and a working environment that is attractive and secondly a long-term business operation will produce a tax base that supports community growth and development," Tweeten said. "Lastly, the people will have a sense of pride that they are on the forefront of a demonstration that grows organic food using community waste resources."
The Southwest Florida waste stream that Growth Design Corp. has identified for the proposed project includes landscaping waste, solid and liquid organics from agricultural and consumer products, waste oils, plastic, rubber, and limited construction and demolition materials.
The company website gives examples of what's produced, such as manure, liquid and solid organic waste getting turned into products like bio-methane gas, electricity, liquid fertilizer and fiber for livestock bedding or artificial peat moss. Some oils, waste oils, fats and greases can be converted into aviation fuel.
By the numbers
Executives project the creation of 200 to 300 jobs over three to five years with more than 100 of those created during the first year of operation.
Executives project the creation of 200 to 300 jobs over three to five years with more than 100 of those created during the first year of operation – something Growth Design Corp. President Bill Luetscher said will partly be up to the community.
"There are abundant waste streams available throughout the Southwest Florida region for this proposed project," Luetscher said. "The question is whether the community will have the determination, speed, and capacity to compete with other communities for this initiative."
Penny Phillippi, executive director of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency, works closely with the community's government advisory boards and visioning committees. She supports the initiative because she believes it will be a positive part of Immokalee's future.
"The reason I am working so closely with these folks is it means job creation for Immokalee and that is our No. 1 goal – plus it is a very exciting opportunity to turn things we throw away into resources that can be used within the community," she said. "Aside from job creation, new industry and an opportunity for folks to build personal wealth, they want to create new energy resources so it's like the future comes to life right here in our community."
Phillippi said she became involved in the process when Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta asked her to provide an overview of Immokalee to Growth Design Corp. and others prior to a tour the group took of Ave Maria and surrounding areas.
"What they're looking for are partners, especially growers who have waste from the fields, plastic or vines and trying to get the word out in the community as to what they are trying to do and what kind of feed stock that they need to put together this kind of industry," Phillippi said.
In Growth Design Corp.'s prepared statement, the company said the initiative would be based on a public-private partnership between their company, Collier County government, local agencies and private investors.
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More information on Growth Design Corp.: www.growthdesign.com.
More information on the Community Redevelopment Agency: www.immokaleetoday.com or call (239) 867-4121.