For immediate release - September 9, 2011
Leesburg Announces Major Economic Development Project; Negotiations Underway For Hundreds of Jobs
The City of Leesburg has announced plans for an innovative new technology park that has already drawn interest from several green energy and aviation companies that could create millions in new development and 600 or more jobs.
One part of the Florida Energy and Aerospace Technology Park proposed for 640 acres of city-owned property at County Road 470 and Florida’s Turnpike targets high-tech businesses that will work together to create environmentally friendly alternative power and fuels.
Another facet of the park will bring together aviation and aerospace companies supported by proposed joint-use manufacturing facilities, 2,500-foot grass and paved airstrips and an advanced aviation business incubator planned through a cooperative partnership between Leesburg and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
The technology park represents a major step forward in Leesburg’s efforts to seek out economic development that complements the city’s current $20M electric smart grid project, as well as the already successful Leesburg International Airport.
“This is the largest economic development initiative the city has ever undertaken,” said Leesburg City Manager Jay Evans. “Our City Commission has made job creation a priority, and this is how we are going to get there. We are fortunate to already be in serious negotiations with several companies.”
Aerospace is a $165 billion industry employing nearly half a million workers in the United States who develop, build and sell products for civil aircraft, the military and space exploration.
The benefit of attracting just some of more than 3,000 aerospace companies to this area would build Leesburg’s industrial tax base, decreasing demand on local residents to pay for important public services. The new companies also would provide high-paying jobs - aerospace production workers on average earn more than 40 percent more than those in other industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The development of this technology park directly correlates with the recently approved Lake County Economic Development Action Plan. The Florida Energy and Aerospace Technology Park will provide new and exciting opportunities for job creation and job retention,” said Scott Blankenship, director of Lake County’s Office of Economic Development & Tourism.
Alternative energy is an essential part of Leesburg’s plans to lower monthly power bills and to curb peak-time electric use among electric customers. The city has embarked on a $20 million project to upgrade its electric utility and incorporate state-of-the-art Smart Grid technology to meet that goal.
Leesburg currently is negotiating with key companies to locate at the Florida Energy and Aerospace Technology Park for a creative project that will convert municipal utility waste into green energy, fuel and other products.
The proposal will take treated wastewater biosolids from Leesburg’s nearby treatment facility and direct it to a privately operated processing plant that will extract methane from the treated waste. Other by-products will go to C&C Peat Co. currently located next to the technology park to make potting media and soil amendments.
Yet another by-product of the biosolids processing will provide carbon dioxide and phosphorus laden water to a separate company that will create algae-based biofuels, jet fuel and several other products. The benefit will create an environmentally friendly and domestic alternative to foreign oil widely used today.
Leesburg’s proposal brings together three essential but not often available components to successfully convert waste to green energy, said Dr. Jay Kapat at the College of Engineering and Computer Science Center for Advanced Turbines and Energy Research at the University of Central Florida.
“This could immediately jump-start the whole process,” Kapat explained. “In many similar ventures, it requires three things: a local government or community, industrial groups to bring investments and business knowledge and academia to bring in new ideas. All of these are coming together in Leesburg.”
Also proposed for the Florida Energy and Aerospace Technology Park is a unique aviation complex that will provide joint-use facilities and business services to accommodate multiple light-sport aircraft (LSA) manufacturers and related companies. Light-sport aircraft are among a growing industry providing lightweight, affordable and easy-to-fly recreational planes. The City is already negotiating with one LSA company to bring its composite and aircraft manufacturing operation to Leesburg.
Future aircraft manufacturers at the technology park will have exclusive use of two proposed, 2,500-foot paved and grass airstrips. Adjacent hangars and other facilities will have direct taxiway access. This will be the nation’s first airpark designed from the ground-up specifically for LSA manufacturers.
An aviation incubator is being planned in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – a world leader in aeronautics instruction and research offering more than 30 degree programs to 34,000 students from around the world. The proposed facility will provide joint-use manufacturing and testing equipment, offices and other features to help share production costs among several small aviation companies working to grow their products and services. The incubator also will provide aviation-related business assistance and education services.
The city currently operates a similar business incubator in downtown Leesburg, in conjunction with Lake County and the University of Central Florida. Open since 2007, the incubator helps small companies to grow and create new jobs.
Leesburg joined with Embry-Riddle last year to help develop an economic development plan branching off from the business growth at Leesburg International Airport. The partners hosted a two-day visioning session at Lake-Sumter Community College to garner community input from local government, academic and business leaders.
The city then developed the Leesburg Energy and Aerospace Program to chart a course for economic development through aviation and aerospace. Part of that program has emerged to support light-sport aircraft manufacturers.
Aside from its international airport, Leesburg is ideally suited for businesses with a wide range of public utilities including high-speed fiber-optic communication, schools and major roadways. This area is centrally located within reach of Florida’s major transportation hubs in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami.
Leesburg also is working closely with Embry-Riddle, Lake-Sumter Community College, Lake Tech, and Lake County Schools to develop industry-specific education programs that can support the future energy and aerospace jobs. An “Energy Academy” is in development for Leesburg High School that will provide students with a concentrated curriculum and hands-on training in the energy field. It is modeled after a similar program in Polk County at Tenoroc High. Leesburg Electric has already agreed to underwrite the cost of equipping an energy laboratory for the program. Talks are also underway for a similar academy focusing on aviation and aerospace.
A total of six companies, representing over 600 jobs, are now negotiating with Leesburg for space at the technology park.
Leesburg is a progressive city of more than 20,000 residents in northwest Lake County. The city government serves twice as many people with its electric, gas, water, wastewater and fiber-optic public utilities. Leesburg also is a central hub for commerce, attracting 50,000 people to work each weekday.