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From Site Selection magazine, May 2020

Caribbean Rum Maker Finds Its Own Happy Hour in Florida

Distiller says a new plant in Polk County is anything but on the rocks.

by Ron Starner

With a renewed focus on the pivotal role supply chains play in manufacturing, it’s no wonder that more and more companies are choosing to move critical operations closer to home.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis that erupted in China in January and quickly spread across the globe, many international companies were already re-evaluating the location of every link in their supply chain.

Count Florida Caribbean Distillers among them. Jose Rivera, general manager of the rum, wine and beer-making firm in Lake Alfred in Polk County, Florida, says the company plans to build a $123 million, 400,000-sq.-ft. (37,160-sq.-m.) plant in Winter Haven, a town of 41,000 people between Tampa and Orlando a few miles south of Interstate 4.

Upon completion in 2021, the plant should employ 160 workers at an average annual wage of $41,047. The project completes a trifecta of company operations in Polk, with the other two plants located in Auburndale and Lake Alfred, smaller cities just north of Winter Haven.

The company moved forward with the $2.3 million purchase of a 77.5-acre (31 hectares) tract in an industrial park next to the CSX intermodal facility in south Winter Haven last December after the Winter Haven City Commission approved a needed zoning ordinance.

The new plant will make aluminum cans, and it won’t be the last such investment by Florida Caribbean Distillers. As demand for cans to replace plastic bottles increases, the company says it will add two other plant expansions within three to five years, adding another 500,000 sq. ft. (46,450 sq. m.) and creating an additional 340 jobs.

The Winter Haven project qualifies for the state’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program, which gives the manufacturer rebates on corporate income, sales, property and other taxes. Florida Distillers will receive up to $5,000 for each new employee it hires.

The company’s operations in Auburndale and Lake Alfred are distilleries and co-packing facilities. “With this expansion in Winter Haven, we’re going into a different business, but it’s one we’ve been doing in Puerto Rico for six years,” says Rivera. “We’ll be making the actual cans in this new plant.”

Intermodal Facility Seals Deal

Why Winter Haven? “We like the business environment here,” Rivera says. “It makes sense to supply the South and East from Florida. We were looking at sites to either increase our capacity in Puerto Rico or do something here, and we decided to go into Florida.”

The site in Winter Haven next to the CSX intermodal facility “is key for us because we will be bringing in big aluminum rolls,” he adds. “The proximity to the CSX facility was pivotal in our making this decision. This business is a penny business. The costs of cans are in pennies. It’s critical that we control our costs, and one of our biggest costs is freight.”

The location along State Road 60 puts the new plant about 7 minutes from Lake Wales and 10 minutes from Bartow, and gives the company easy access to every major market in Florida.

“We’re bottlers of Coca-Cola,” says Rivera. “We’re in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.” The company operates out of three large industrial parks in Puerto Rico. “We also have facilities in the Virgin Islands, San Martin, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago,” says Rivera.

He says state and local officials “have been incredible to work with on our Winter Haven project. We had a lot of help from the Winter Haven city manager and the EDC of Winter Haven. They’ve been very instrumental in getting us off the ground quickly. Everything they said would happen has happened quickly. This has been done in a very business-like manner.”

Lakeland Lands Amazon Air Hub

The project, approved in December, was far from alone in what proved to be a very active year for Polk County. Amazon chose Lakeland Linder International Airport as the site for its new air cargo sortation center. The $100 million investment creates 294,000 sq. ft. (27,313 sq. m.) of space and up to 1,000 new jobs.

Peace River Citrus Products announced in late January 2020 that it would launch a $98 million expansion of its Bartow citrus processing facility to make Minute Maid juice beverages for Coca-Cola North America. The firm will build 324,000 sq. ft. (30,100 sq. m.) of space and hire 175 workers.

Summit, a leading provider of workers’ compensation services, announced it would build a new 150,000-sq.-ft. (13,935-sq.-m.) headquarters in Lakeland for the firm’s 500 employees. The $50 million investment will be built on iconic Lake Morton. Summit, which has regional offices in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Gainesville, Georgia, had considered locations in Ohio and Georgia before selecting its new site in its hometown of Lakeland.

Other significant investments in Polk recently came from Dispensing Packaging Inc. ($12.4 million) and Pamlico Air ($6 million).

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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