Touting the project as the biggest economic development effort in Hendry County in nearly 50 years, local officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony announced that BioNitrogen Holdings Corporation will soon be breaking ground on a new cleantech fertilizer plant.
Local and state officials, Hendry County residents and members of BioNitrogen convened at the Weekley Industrial Park on C.R. 835 on May 14 to celebrate the momentous occasion.
“I’m humbled that you are all here today,” said Hendry County Economic Development Council President Gregg Gillman, welcoming guests at the start of the ceremony. “I have been in economic development for 25 years. This is the third largest, successful economic development project that I have been involved with, and I was in Indianapolis for 16 years.”
The grand-scale economic development project is two years in the making and Gillman spoke of the fragile elements that all came together to make the project a reality.
The city of Clewiston, Florida Power and Light, Florida City Gas, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, Enterprise Florida and U.S. Sugar Corp. all play a role in the development of the project, said Gillman, and if any of those components fall apart, the deal could fall apart.
“On a project of this magnitude, you never go away, you never take a break, you never relax, because they will find somewhere else to go,” said Gillman in an interview following the ceremony.
South Florida certainly is the ideal location for BioNitrogen — having all the components necessary for its production — but Gillman’s constant determination brought the urea fertilizer company to Hendry County, instead of Orlando, Miami or along either coast. In fact, Hendry County will house the first cleantech urea fertilizer plant in the state of Florida.
“We chose this site, not just because state and local officials recommended it, but because of the jobs and the opportunities in this area. There’s feedstock, there’s transportation, there’s all the basic inputs that we need in our recipe to make this a success,” said BioNitrogen President and CFO Bryan Kornegay Jr.
BioNitrogen produces urea fertilizer, but instead of using the normal feedstock of natural gas and coal, which can be detrimental to the environment, BioNitrogen uses woody biomass as feedstock in a patented process that Kornegay claims could be carbon negative.
“Our company’s patented process allows us to use woody biomass and other waste products as feedstock. This not only reduces the co2 emissions from people burning or burying this feedstock, but it also reduces the co2 emissions from a typical natural gas or carbon-based urea plant. In fact, we believe our process is not only carbon neutral, but possibly carbon negative,” said Kornegay.
Some examples of the woody biomass that BioNitrogen can use to make its fertilizer include corn leaves and stalks, palm fronds, rice and peanut hulls, sugarcane bagasse, paper goods and municipal waste wood. According to Kornegay, the city of Clewiston has already pledged to take its woody biomass waste to the plant, a process that will benefit both BioNitrogen and Clewiston.
BioNitrogen is not only bringing a strong ecological sensibility to Hendry County, it is also bringing strong economic ties to the area, as well.
Kornegay said the company is in the process of negotiating with Florida Power and Light for its newly approved economic development rate, signed a 25-year contract that supplies the Hendry County plant with woody biomass feedstock and signed a 25-year offtake agreement with United Suppliers, ensuring a market for its future output. In addition, Kornegay announced that the plant has received, thanks to the Industrial Development Authority of Hendry County, $300 million in bonds to be used towards the construction of the plant, and over $10 million in upfront inducements from the local community and the state.
“This ceremony does mark the beginning of a long-term relationship with the state of Florida and with Hendry County and the local community. We expect to be here for a long time,” said Kornegay.
The excitement of the morning was certainly palpable, but only truly recognizable when the number of jobs the endeavor is expected to create was revealed. During the initial 18-month building period, 250 construction jobs are expected to be created, with 55 full-time positions expected to be created when the plant is opened for operation.
Gillman said he always asks every project to give full consideration to Hendry County residents for their jobs. However, even if all 55 positions are not filled by Hendry County residents, Gillman said the positions will attract people to the area who will hopefully buy a house and put their children in the school system.
“It’s an opportunity for us to gain residents, on top of giving Hendry County people jobs,” said Gillman.
And what about those who will not directly benefit from an employment opportunity at BioNitrogen? Gillman said this project is a “monster property tax generator.”
Gillman said much of the property in Hendry County is nontaxable because it is either public land, a park or used for agriculture, a project like this carries a huge tax bill that will go to the county, the school board and Hendry Regional Medical Center.
In fact, Kornegay said in his speech that BioNitrogen is expected to add $1 million to the school board system alone over the next 40 years.
With such impressive prospects for Hendry County’s future, it is no wonder that city and county officials are so excited about this project. They are not, however, the only ones excited — nor surprised — to see such huge economic development in Hendry County.
“It’s amazing how one community can be so focused and so dedicated on trying to make sure that their community grew, prospered and was headed in the right direction,” said state Rep. Matt Hudson, who represents Hendry County in Tallahassee. “It’s no wonder we’re standing here today on the precipice of a major announcement, major capital infrastructure and jobs that are going to create strong families and an even stronger community for next generations.”