Salazar Machine & Steel in Immokalee to show off expansion at open house

Machinist and welder Erinque Francisco replaces a cover plate after putting a new motor on a machine for washing and sanitizing produce bins at Salazar Machine & Steel Inc. in Immokalee. The machine, called bin washer GCS, was invented by Pete Salazar, the owner and president of the company.

Photo by Darron R. Silva, Daily News // Buy this photo

Machinist and welder Erinque Francisco replaces a cover plate after putting a new motor on a machine for washing and sanitizing produce bins at Salazar Machine & Steel Inc. in Immokalee. The machine, called bin washer GCS, was invented by Pete Salazar, the owner and president of the company.

The Immokalee Regional Airport. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

The Immokalee Regional Airport. David Albers/Staff

— Pete Salazar went from working out of his truck to opening his own manufacturing plant.

He started out traveling from one job site to another with a mobile machining and welding service, before opening a 2,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. Now, after about 12 years, Salazar has added 20,000 square feet to his headquarters manufacturing site at Immokalee Regional Airport.

“We are very happy that we have our building,” said Salazar, owner of Salazar Machine & Steel Inc.

The expansion will enable his company to better serve its customers, he said.

“It’s all about serving our community and growing and creating jobs and training,” he said.

Salazar Machine & Steel plans to host an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Collier County Airport Authority Manufacturing Facility, 190 Airpark Blvd., Immokalee Regional Airport. A ribbon-cutting is set for 11 a.m. There will be food, door prizes and demonstrations. The public is invited.

“We are excited about what has happened to our business ever since we moved into the Immokalee airport,” Salazar said. “It has been growth ever since.”

Bernardo Barnhart, president of the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Florida Community Bank in Immokalee, shares Salazar’s enthusiasm.

“I’m excited because I’m seeing the growth in the development in Immokalee,” said Barnhart, a native of the town. “It’s a great time for this community.”

Barnhart hopes the recent expansion sparks new interest in the community for other businesses.

“It should give people a lot of hope, that they can come out and do business in this town,” Barnhart said.

Most of Salazar’s business comes from agricultural companies.

Salazar, who grew up in Immokalee and whose parents were migrant workers and grew up picking tomatoes, has built conveyor and packing systems for the nation’s top packing houses.

Locally, he works with such large growers as Lipman, Pacific Tomato, Gargiulo Inc. and DiMare Co. He has designed harvesting trucks and other heavy machinery to improve their operations. He also fixes broken equipment.

Although the company is agricultural in nature, it also does structural steel work.

About three years ago, Salazar branched out to LaBelle to open a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing center, so the business now totals more than 40,000 square feet at its manufacturing centers in Immokalee and LaBelle. Salazar Machine & Steel Inc. has more than 15 employees, combined in Immokalee and LaBelle.

“We had to do something because our business was growing,” said Salazar, 53. “Growth doesn’t wait. Growth continues to grow and we had to move with it.”

Salazar said he expects to create new jobs with the recent expansion, but didn’t know how many at the time.

“This area has potential for other businesses to come here, too. It’s been very good for us. It can be very good for others, too,” Salazar said, adding that expanding businesses don’t necessarily have to be focused on agriculture.

Chris Curry, Collier County Airports Executive Director, on NewsMakers 01-27-13.

Chris Curry, Collier County Airports Executive Director, on NewsMakers 01-27-13.

Collier County Airport Authority Executive Director Chris Curry said Salazar’s business is going to provide a great economic benefit for the Immokalee community.

“We are extremely happy to see their expansion taking place in the Immokalee Regional Airport,” Curry said.

On top of that, Salazar is patenting a new harvesting assistance system, which could increase farm efficiency.

Salazar, who has been working on the new system for more than four years, said farmworkers would still pick and dump the produce into a nearby bin system, which would tally the amount dumped. This system could shorten the worker’s distance from picking to a man-operated deposit area.

In tests, Salazar said, the picker’s productivity has increased by 30 percent.

Curry and Salazar both said they are thankful for the cooperative working relationship with USDA to make the plant expansion possible.

Salazar received a $495,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from USDA, a third of the project, and county government contributed about $1 million, two-thirds, for the project.

“This project is equally beneficial to the tenant and the county,” Curry said.

The new plant is a benefit for the airport because these type of buildings are usually designed to last about 40 years and the contribution from county government should be paid back by the company in about eight years, Curry said.

Currently, Curry said, Salazar pays $140,000 a year for rental income to the county for use of the complex.

Salazar, who graduated from Immokalee High School, started his manufacturing business at 26. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school.

Salazar got his inspiration from a cousin who was a welder. He went to vocational technical school to learn the trade.

Now, he said, he’s training the workers he hires, offering them jobs that pay better than average in the small, poor town in hopes of making more people productive citizens.

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