sked last year to name his top priorities, Stu Heishman, vice president of economic development & business recruitment for all of Duke Energy, told us his top priorities included adapting to the new size, scale and speed of economic development projects; a special focus on emerging/reemerging industries such as semiconductors, EV assembly, EV batteries, data centers, solar panels and cryptocurrency; programs for accelerated delivery to prime sites; and replenishing site inventory with a special focus on megasites.
Every one of those priorities is as directly connected to physical sites and buildings as a power line is to a new facility.
“We see sites as central to our entire program,” says Duke Energy Florida Managing Director of Economic Development Marc Hoenstine. “If we don’t have a site, it doesn’t really matter. We are spending a lot of our money and efforts on site development, even to the point of hopefully getting some buildings on some of these sites. We are working with developers and brokers. It is key to the growth of our communities.”
The slate of site programs begins with a highly successful Site Readiness program whereby Duke Energy identifies high-potential sites and partners with county officials, local economic development professionals and landowners to develop a strategy for getting sites fully ready to market to industrial prospects. Next comes Advancing Sites, which helps communities locate money to go toward studies and infrastructure, as well as promotion. Other funding mechanisms coming down the pike and not yet officially rolled out may include revolving loan and spec building programs, all with the end goal of increasing the portfolio of competitive economic development sites in Duke Energy Florida territory.
The Duke Energy Site Readiness program since 2013 has resulted in 680 new jobs and $183 million in capital investment in Florida, part of Duke Energy economic development team efforts that since 2001 have helped expand or attract 325 companies to Florida, drawing more than 48,000 jobs and over $5 billion in capital investment.
Rebar like this is flowing from the Nucor plant in Frostproof, Florida, thanks to the flow of Duke Energy power traveling there on a quickly installed 2.5-mile line.
Photo courtesy of Nucor Corp.
New efforts are ready to boost those totals, and will be directed by Chris Wimsatt, manager of real estate product development for Duke Energy Florida and one of the eight professionals to have joined the team in the last few years. He delivered on an ambitious site expansion plan in 2022 and is pursuing a similarly ambitious growth plan in 2023 for a portfolio that now features more than 40 site.
“If you don’t have product, you have nothing to sell,” Hoenstine says. “We believe we have the best ability to influence sites because we are serving those sites and we are investing money in the dirt.”
“We talk about ‘no site, no deal,’ ” adds Hoenstine’s colleague John Fremstad. “We have a completely revamped site development effort initially focused on matching existing power assets to available land. Then we have the ability to bring dollars to the site for infrastructure additions and development to be more attractive to large power-using industries. In short, we have a new ability to invest dollars to make sites more attractive and speed up the time to market.”
New Kids on the Block
Duke Energy Florida in January announced it has identified four locations in Franklin, Highlands and Marion counties for inclusion in its Site Readiness Program to evaluate and prepare industrial site opportunities for economic development investments.
“Duke Energy Florida is committed to powering the lives of our customers and the vitality of our communities,” says Stu Heishman, vice president of Economic Development and Business Recruitment at Duke Energy. “Through the Site Readiness Program, we continue to work closely with various government and private sector organizations to bring new jobs and capital investment to the state of Florida. We are proud of this program’s initial success and we will continue to offer economic development initiatives that bring value to the communities we serve.”
Duke Energy works with major site selection consulting firms as well as top engineering and land planning groups to conduct a holistic and comprehensive site analysis based on site-specific data, market trends and organizational support. Based on consultant recommendations and after each site’s state of readiness has advanced, Duke Energy then collaborates with county leaders and local economic development professionals to develop a strategy for marketing the sites nationwide to companies looking to expand or relocate their operations. Among the four new sites’ highlights:
Franklin County – Airport Industrial Park: The 636-acre site located in the Florida Panhandle along the Gulf of Mexico in Apalachicola offers three runways and 100 acres of industrial land ready for development.
Highlands County – Avon Park Airport & Industrial Park: The 438-acre site within the city of Avon Park in Highlands County sits equidistant between the growing Tampa and Orlando metro markets and offers two runways, with another 314 acres adjacent to the main parcel for expansion opportunities.
Highlands County – Lake Placid Business & Industrial Park: The 370-acre site in south-central Florida has 90-minute access to the Orlando, Miami and Tampa markets, sits adjacent to state Highway 27 and offers more than a mile of active rail line, ample water, wastewater and electric capacity. It’s the second site in Highlands County to be part of the Site Readiness program.
Marion County – Baseline Commerce Park: The site state Highway 35 and I-75 in Ocala offers 151 acres plus an additional 90 acres for expansion opportunities. It offers an active rail line bordering the east side of the property. Ample water, wastewater, natural gas, fiber and electric capacity surrounding the property offer future tenants a variety of utility solutions.
“Our Duke Energy Site Readiness program has continued to help us not only build our site inventory but has also been a way to strategically work with our communities in further understanding the intricacies of the site selection process,” says Danielle Ruiz. “A recent example is our work with Franklin County, located in the eastern point of the panhandle. The Apalachicola airport recently went through the program, engaging the county officials to complete the lengthy and detailed program questionnaire. This was fairly new for the community partners, so with the support of our economic development team, our regional partners at Opportunity Florida and lots of hard work by many, we have a site with strong attributes for light manufacturing and aviation related businesses. And we have a community partner that is even more engaged in economic development and regional efforts with Florida’s Great Northwest. This engagement has allowed Franklin County to benefit from the support of the marketing of the site coupled with sharing the opportunity for companies to be considered for Triumph Gulf Coast grant dollars available.”
Another example is the $240 million, 250-job Nucor rebar mini mill project at Frostproof Business Park in Polk County. The preparation implied by the Site Readiness label meant “we were able to take a timeline that wouldn’t have worked for the client and finish it three months before they needed the power,” says Hoenstine. “They were looking at June and we got it to them in March.”
Nucor chose the location for its proximity to construction markets and a rail line for delivering supplies and products and for its proximity to dependable electricity. Duke Energy economic development teams worked with Nucor to scout locations. Once the 400-acre site in Polk County was selected, Duke Energy helped design and build a new transmission line and substation to meet the mill’s electric needs.
One thing that helped the Duke Energy team deliver power early was the use of helicopters to get transmission lines to the plant. Not only was the process faster, as a Duke Energy newsletter explained in 2020, but it reduced disruptions caused by construction. The 2.5-mile section of line took one day to complete along 96 towers with helicopters rather than the days or weeks it could have taken a crew.