'We want quality jobs': Walton County to put Industrial Park land out for bids again

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — With three bids already in hand for tracts at the Mossy Head Industrial Park between Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 west of DeFuniak Springs, Walton County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to put the acreage back out for new bids.

The decision came after Bill Imfeld, executive director of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA), asked commissioners for direction on handling the three in-hand offers.

The WCEDA, a nonprofit business organization formed in the 1990s, is not part of the county government. It is overseen by a board comprised of representatives of the commission, educational administrators, utility providers, business owners and local mayors.

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The Mossy Head Industrial Park is owned by the county, and the WCEDA has been assisting in the marketing of the acreage.

The latest in-hand offers cover various configurations of acreage at the Industrial Park, with each entity offering to purchase their selected tract or tracts at $20,000 per acre.

The offers come from Alliant Capital Partners in Freeport, which has proposed a purchase of 54.2 acres, comprising all of the remaining developable acreage in the park; Truckworx in Homewood, Alabama, which would like to buy 12 acres, and Ps 37 Properties in DeFuniak Springs, which made its offer on a 10-acre parcel.

According to its communications with the county, Alliant Capital proposes to develop 450,000 square feet of space that could be used by a variety of businesses for industrial, light manufacturing, distribution or logistics work.

Truckworx is proposing to build a 45,000-square-foot heavy-duty truck dealership, according to information presented to commissioners, and Ps 37 Properties wants to build a data center to house computer systems and associated components, according to information included with the agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting.

Alliant Capital estimates that its proposed project could create more than 200 new jobs, while Truckworx projects the creation of between 30 and 45 jobs when its facility is fully staffed. Ps 37 has told the county that it projects initially bringing in "5 to 10 high wage, high skill jobs, in addition to 20+ additional jobs as the operation expands within a 5-to-10-year time horizon."

Complicating the situation is that the 54 acres in which Alliant Capital Partners is interested includes the tracts that interest Truckworx and Ps 37.

Three businesses have submitted bids to buy land in the Mossy Head industrial Park.

Given that circumstance, interim Walton County counsel Clay Adkinson suggested to commissioners Tuesday that the tracts be put out for bid again.

But Adkinson suggested that in addition to the information already provided by the current bidders — who presumably could submit bids in the new process — the county also should require bidders to indicate the average wage of jobs projected for whatever enterprises they're proposing. 

From there, Adkinson said county staff members could evaluate the economic impact of each proposal and prepare a report for the commission's consideration.

Commissioners ultimately adopted that approach, and with their vote directed the county staff to have those reports back to them within 30 days.

Whether or not the land purchase prices proposed by bidding companies will be a factor in any future decisions on sales of land in the Industrial Park remained something of an open question Tuesday.

Facing some public concern that $20,000 per acre is too low, two commissioners suggested that the money that comes to the county for the land isn't the only measure of its value.

Those suggestions came as Barbara Morano of the South Walton Community Council   suggested that selling land at $20,000 an acre would artificially deflate the value of other properties in the area.

" ... Twenty thousand an acre is just not good enough," Morano said.  

Commissioner Danny Glidewell, after pointing out that the county has made almost $1 million from land sales at the Industrial Park (Imfeld placed the county's take at closer to $2 million), said the broader economic impact of selling the land also needs to be considered.

"What's important here is the jobs," Glidewell asserted. "We want quality jobs that improve the quality of life for our citizens."

Commissioner William "Boots" McCormick also took a wider view. He noted that in transforming Industrial Park tracts from raw land to business facilities increases their tax value and brings new revenue to the county.

"Let's not lose focus here," McCormick urged.

A somewhat dissenting view came from Commissioner Tony Anderson, who suggested that the county should find out what other area counties are charging for land dedicated to economic development.

"I suggest that we look into whether we need to raise the rates, lower the rates, or whatever we need to do," Anderson said.

He added that he wasn't specifically suggesting that prices for the tracts be raised or lowered. Rather, he said he was suggesting that prices be negotiated separately with parties interested in purchasing land in the Industrial Park.

Commission Chairman Mike Barker, while recognizing a need to bring jobs to county residents, also noted a potential problem with selling land at a bargain price.

As a hedge against a purchaser taking advantage of a low price and turning around and selling the land for a large profit, Barker suggested that the county include provisions in any deal "to have a fail-safe to keep that from happening."