Immokalee Today Florida's 21st Century

Florida Legislature should work to save Enterprise Zones, including Immokalee's

Immokalee’s Enterprise Zone – along with Florida’s other 64 Enterprise Zones – is under a severe threat again in the Florida Legislature. 

Revived in 2005 and set to sunset at the end of 2015, unless the Legislature acts to save them, Enterprise Zones offer the most cost-effective program in the Sunshine State for job creation, entrepreneurial encouragement and a ticket out of poverty for small businesses seeking to find a firm financial footing in today’s marketplace. 

In Immokalee alone, its Enterprise Zone has provided over $200,000 in tax incentives and other assistance to nearly 20 businesses over the past decade. 

House Bill 903, filed by Florida State Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, has been filed in the legislature’s lower house to extend and reform Enterprise Zones. 

Senate Bill 392, filed by Sen. Jeff Clemons, D-Lake Worth, has been filed in the Florida Senate. 

But those efforts may face troubled waters in the Florida Senate where Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee Chair, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has been quoted saying she will not allow any discussion of Enterprise Zone extensions to come before her committee. 

Southwest Florida’s senior lawmaker in the upper house, State Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, also serves on the Senate Commerce Committee and efforts are being directed at all lawmakers with nearby ties to persuade them of the value and continuing need for Enterprise Zone benefits in Immokalee and around the state. 

"Enterprise Zones across the state have helped curb a shortage of investment, in both local community support and in private capital, experienced by the state's deteriorating areas," said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute and government watchdog, Florida TaxWatch. "Our comprehensive analysis of Florida's Enterprise Zones calls for substantial legislative reforms that will increase the program's efficacy and value to taxpayers and each of the communities they were established to serve."

TaxWatch produced its report earlier this month and focused on several key highlights and often overlooked benefits of the program, including: 

  • It is one of the only economic development programs available for retail businesses. 
  • It supports and encourages businesses which provide necessary service to the communities in which the businesses are located: food and medication, for example. 
  • Because it requires relatively little of Florida’s massive state budget it is the single most cost-effective economic development program in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Association of Counties has weighed in to educate lawmakers and the public about the benefits of Enterprise Zones

Does all this mean the Enterprise Zone program should remain untouched and unchanged? Absolutely not. 

TaxWatch and Enterprise Zone managers all agree the program would benefit from some needed reforms. 

Marketing efforts should be increased, TaxWatch suggested, to encourage more small businesses to take advantage of the program. Reporting metrics and methods should be brought up to modern standards and, like many other state programs, the transparency of Enterprise Zones can be improved. 

"Enterprise Zones meet a need that no other program can," said Bob Swindell, Chairman of the Florida Economic Development Council and President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. "While Enterprise Zones aren't attracting the state's largest companies with the highest-paying jobs, they are directly affecting the quality of life for residents of the state's most isolated and deteriorating areas."

"Enterprise Zones are a vital tool to encourage economic development and provide needed jobs to Floridians in low-income urban and rural areas," said Amy Evancho, President of the Florida Economic Development Council. "The Florida Legislature must act to make smart reforms to ensure this valuable tool continues to provide essential services, such Florida's economically depressed areas."

“Local Enterprise Zone advocates are also pushing for reform, in addition to a lengthy extension of the program,” explained Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee CRA and the Immokalee Enterprise Zone. 

“The Enterprise Zone Development Agency in Immokalee recently voted by unanimous decision to send letter to all key political gatekeepers of the program voicing their concern over the looming December 2015 sunset date,” he said. 

Key reform points include lowering the barriers of entry into the program, which would allow very small businesses to participate in the numerous rebate programs which fall under the Enterprise Zone umbrella. 

“For example, the minimum expenditure thresholds within the Building Equipment Sales Tax Rebate Program should be lowered from $5000 to $500 per piece,” Muckel suggested. “Also, the full-time employee requirement dictated by the Property Tax Credit Program should be lowered from five full-time employees to two FTE’s (full time equivalents). "

 

First Street Zocalo garners national design award!

It was a snowy, wintery Washington D.C. but the sunshine and warmth of Immokalee's First Street Zocalo brought welcomed glow to the Jannuary winter conference of the National Community Development Association (NCDA). 

That's when the Immokalee CRA was presented with NCDA's 2015 Audrey Nelson Community Development Award for the community's new First Street Zocalo. 

Named for the first deputy executive secretary of the NCDA in 1987, the award recognizes "exemplary uses of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the partnerships between local governments and non-profit organizations to assist low- and moderate-income persons. 

"The First Street Plaza was created as a comprehensive vision for the future of Immokalee," said the NCDA in its presentation. "The Plaza has created a greater livable community that creates a gateway to the downtown business community."

As an award recipient the Immokalee CRA and its design/construction team was invited to Washington  to present to the NCDA an overview of the project during the NCDA Winter Conference. 

"It was wonderful to be recognized by other community development organizations for our work on the Zocalo," said Immokalee CRA Executive Director Bradley Mucklel. "We could not have built the Zocalo without community support and the design and construction team that included architect David Corban, landscape architect Ellin Goetz and our construction team at Surety Construction." 

In the photo above, architect David Corban is featured at the far right and Muckel is in the photo to Corbin's immediate right. 

The NCDA award was another in a growing list of award granted the CRA for the First Street Zocalo. It was honored in September by the Collier Building Industry Association by winning one of its coveted Sand Dollar Awards. 

 

Home rehab informational meeting - February 5

Some home-owning Immokaleans could take advantage of a state-county program to rehabilitate homes. 

The Collier County SHIP Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program will hold an informational meeting about the various opportunities on February 5, at 6 p.m. at CareerSource Immokalee (the One-Stop Shop), 750 South 5th Street

The program provides interest-free, deferred loans to assist eligible homeowners in with home rehabilitation. 

How, one might ask, does one apply for such a loan? 

 Your annual combined household income cannot exceed these maximum income limits, based on family size of: 

2014 Income Limits 
Household Size:         1               2                3                   4                5               6                7 

Very Low (50%)   $23,050     $26,350     $29,650     $32,900     $35,550     $38,200     $40,800 


What are the requirements of a Homeowner? You must own or have a mortgage for at least twelve months and the home must be your primary place of residence. Proof of mortgage or deed as well legal residency or citizenship status, will be required. 

Are there any restrictions as to where the property may be located? The property must be located within unincorporated Collier County, the City of Naples, the City of Marco Island, or Everglades City. 

Are there any other restrictions? The Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program may be used to rehabilitate single-family homes, townhouses, or condominium units. Mobile homes do not qualify for assistance. The maximum assessed value of the property cannot be over $300,000, including after rehab assistance (As determined by the Collier County Property Appraiser assessed value). 

How much money can I borrow? You may qualify for up to $30,000.00 for rehabilitation or repair work to your home. A Promissory Note will be secured by a Second Mortgage payable to Collier County when you sell your home, refinance your home, or lose your homestead exemption. 

Who does the rehabilitation work? Homeowners will submit an Application for Housing Assistance to Collier County Community & Human Services Department (CHS). Once CHS determines the household is income eligible, we will refer your case to Centro Campesino Farmworker Center Inc. who will initiate an inspection of your home. The inspection will determine if your home is eligible for rehabilitation. Note* There is a two part approval process; 1) Household eligibility 2) Property eligibility. 

Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. will oversee the rehabilitation process and will work with homeowners and contractors directly through the construction phase of the program. 

Applications for the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program are available at the Collier County Community & Human Services Department located at 3339 Tamiami Trail E, BldgH #211 Naples, Fl 34112. 

Are there any fees required when applying? There is no application fee. 

How are the funds distributed? Funds are loaned on a first come first serve basis. The County is particularly interested in assisting low and very-low income households. 

Who do I call if I have more questions about this program? Call Mandy Moody at 239-252-2338 or Email at MandyMoody@Colliergov.net

 

Immokalee & Ave Maria featured in Gulfshore Business Relocation Guide

Immokalee and Ave Maria, just five miles to the south of Immokalee, share a page in the Gulfshore Business Magazine's annual relocation guide, published in January. 

The publication also lists the Seminole Immokalee Casino as the region's biggest tourist draw with over two million visitors annually. 

Economic incentives drive economic growth in Immokalee

The opening soon of the new hotel at Seminole Immokalee Casino and two chain eateries it certainly appears economic development in Immokalee is on the upswing. 

The Seminole Tribe of Florida can, of course, spur its own economic development but a new Taco Bell in Immokalee and a relocated and expanded Subway Sandwich Shop - to be followed by a frozen yogurt franchise - are the direct result of federal and state economic incentives sheparded by the Immokalee Community Redevelopment District (CRA). 

No less than the Naples Daily News cited recently in an editorial the exciting and change economic and civic climate of this once sleepy farming community into a shining example of Florida in the 21st Century. 

"With the economic incentives we have at our disposal, we could offer help for both Taco Bell and the new Subway Shop and help them realize the potential market they can find here in Immokalee," explained CRA Executive Director Bradley Muckel. "The increasing economic opportunities here are very exciting." 

And, of course, none this is to exclude the Wal-Mart set to open in Immokalee in 2016. 

Among the economic incentives is the U.S. Small Business Administration's designation of Immokalee as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUB Zone, which helps create jobs and attracts private investment into a community. 

The Immokalee Rural Enterprize Zone designation by the State of Florida allows new (and, in some cases, existing) businesses tax breaks and regulatory relief to help those new businesses get started. 

The Free Foreign Trade Zone, a 60-acre designation at the Immokalee Regional Aiport, offer customs and tariff assistance for companies which import and export goods into and from Immokalee and the rest of Florida. 

"It’s encouraging to see one announcement after another about big plans that could sustain Immokalee, a community that for a long time rose or fell on the success of its seasonal crops," opined the Naples Daily News back in December

"As documented (last) summer by Daily News reporter Maria Perez, young adults who came from field labor or blue-collar families are returning to Immokalee with degrees and specialized training to pursue their adult lives where they were raised. The draw of professionals with degrees back to their hometown can help lead the way long-term."

The future in Immokalee is a clear as a bright, crisp Floriday! 

Driver's License road tests to be offered in Immokalee

Immokaleans will soon be able to take the road test for a Florida Driver's License right here in Immokalee. 

This means, of course, no more driving all the way into Naples for the road test. 

Collier County Tax Collector Larry Ray announced the arrival in Immokalee of a mobile driver's license road test van January 15 with future visits schedule on a "periodic need basis." 

This unit will be operated by certified Examiners from the Airport Road and Orange Blossom Driver's License Offices on a rotating basis," Ray said. 

The Mobile Road Test Unit will begin testing on January 15  at the Tax Collector's Immokalee Branch Office, 106 1st Street. Initial tests will be administered by appointment only.

In order to be qualified to take the road test, applicants must bring a valid Learners Permit, registration and proof of insurance for the vehicle they will be driving for the test. Qualified residents wanting the road test should call the Airport Road Driver's License Office for an appointent, 239-434-4600.

Immigrants, non-immigrants (those with work permits) and Canadians can qualify for a Florida Driver's License. The State of Florida maintains a complete list of qualifications and qualifying documents here

 

Happy New Year!

Immokale Zocalo wins national award!

Awards and honors continue to flow to the Immokalee Zocalo - or Main Street Plaza! 

News came as a Christmas gift of a national award for the community plaza. The National Community Development Association (NCDA) has named the Immokalee Zocalo as the recipient of its 2015 Audrey Nelson Community Development Award. 

Named for the first deputy executive secretary of the NCDA in 1987, the award recognizes "exemplary uses of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the partnerships between local governments and non-profit organizations to assist low- and moderate-income persons. 

As an award recipient the Immokalee CRA and its design/construction team will be invited to Washington, DC, in January to present an overview of the project during the NCDA Winter Conference. 

"This is a great honor," said Immokalee CRA Executive Director Bradley Mucklel. "It's a fantastic recognition for the community of Immokalee as well as for our design team of architect David Corban, landscape architect Ellin Goetz and our construction team at Surety Construction." 

The Zocalo was honored in September by the Collier Building Industry Association by winning one of its coveted Sand Dollar Awards. 

Happy Holidays from the Immokalee CRA!

No matter what tradition you celebrate during this most wondrous season of the year, we wish you the very best! 

Immokalee Christmas Around The World - December 13!

For 23 years Immokalee's Christmas Around The World celebration has been a mainstay of holiday festivities in Southwest Florida and the 2014 edition is set for December 13! 

Sponsored and organized each year by the Christmas around the World Committee and the Collier County Parks & Recreation Department, the Annual Christmas Parade and Snow Gala is set to launch at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday right along Main Street in Immokalee. 
 
The 2014 parade will feature a special section devoted to, "Organizations that make Collier County , Fl.....The Place to Work & Live."
 
The parade will be followed by a Christmas Gala at the Immokalee community swimming pool with lots of food, games, music, machine-produced snow and singers and dancers from Immokalee. The highlight of the Christmas Gala is the Grand Finale and the arrival of Santa Claus, via helicopter, courtesy of the Seminole Tribe of Immokalee. The Seminole Immokalee Casino provides free books to every child who take pictures with Santa during the evening.
 
The parade will again feature a float competition and will travel from the corner of Carver and First (1st) Streets directly across from the Seminole Casino(506 S. First Street) continuing on a path that leads to the Immokalee High School’s football field parking lot. The Gala will start immediately thereafter at the Immokalee Soccer Field across our Immokalee High School.
 
Partial proceeds from this Parade & Gala will go towards several scholarships to deserving Immokalee High School Seniors who plan to advance through higher education.  The remaining funds will be used by Parks & Recreation to offset Gala Event expenditures. Parks and Recreation will be charging an entrance fee of $1.00 to all persons 36 inches and taller. 
 
Please contact the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce for more information, (239) 657-3237 or e-mail, ecoc@comcast.net. As she is every year, long-time Immokalee community leader Cherryle Thomas chairs the 2014 event.