On a scorching June afternoon earlier this month, a large group of public officials, corporate big wigs and developers gathered in the shadows of Interstate 4 for a ceremony marking the start of construction for a massive new distribution center in Plant City.
One speaker after another delivered prepared speeches praising the process and the project before heading out to an empty field to jostle for photos. As so often happens at these events, there was a celebratory feeling as if the work had been completed and everyone could heave a sigh a relief.
But, in fact, the ceremonial turning of the shovels on that June 6 afternoon was the end of the first part of the process and the beginning of the next.
Houston based food and kitchen distributor Sysco is building a 504,000-square-foot distribution center in Plant City that is expected to bring 200 jobs with an average annual salary of $82,500. The facility will be a cold storage food-service distribution center with a two-story office space and truck parking and a vehicle maintenance facility.
It is being built at the Southern Oaks Business Park at 475 Charlie Taylor Road.
Jane Grout, Sysco’s president for the North Florida region, says the center is being built to take some of the pressure off of facilities now serving Central and West Florida and help prepare for future growth as demand increases because of the state’s population spike.
The jobs will be in operations, transportation, warehouse and sales.
Grout declined to share what the company was spending on the facility or incentives it received in a post-speech interview, referring the question to the company’s corporate communications department. In a follow up email, a Sysco spokesperson says the company does “not typically disclose our specific capital investments or incentives.”
The city was more forthcoming.
At a March 13 Plant City Commission meeting city leaders were told the project “would represent an investment of at least $65 million in building and equipment improvements alone.” The statement came as part of a presentation on a package to approve an ad valorem tax exemption.
Commissioners unanimously approved the measure. According to the city, it will provide Sysco a 50% credit on the assessed value of new qualifying improvements and a 50% credit on qualifying new tangible personal property for seven years starting Jan. 1, 2026.
The incentives will cost the city an estimated $197,909 in revenue, according to the property appraiser’s office, the city says. But it is important to note that it will receive, if the estimate holds, $197,909 in new revenue for the first seven years and then the entire amount after seven years.
The presentation was made by Steve Morey, president and CEO of the Plant City Economic Development Council.
Morey told commissioners that in order to qualify for the exemption Sysco — or any company looking for the incentive — must meet certain requirements. Among those are creating at least 50 jobs, that the jobs pay an annual wage of at least 115% of Plant City's annual private sector wage and the the total capital investments are least $20 million.
“This project will far exceed the requirements,” Morey told commissioners.
The project did not come without some concerns from residents, though. There is no doubt Plant City is growing and becoming a hub for businesses in the region, both because of where it’s located and the number of people moving to the area.
But that growth comes with challenges, as the once sleepy, rural community begins a transformation while trying to maintain what made it the kind of place people wanted to live in and visit in the past.
One woman who spoke up at Sysco’s March hearing before the city commission complained about the number of trucks on the streets and the congestion from the growth. She told commissioners she felt “trapped in because of all this development, warehouse after warehouse after warehouse.”
That sentiment isn’t lost on city leaders.
“I think one of the most important things is the growth and that's something that's not lost for us on the dias,” Nathan Kilton, Plant City’s mayor, says in an interview with the Business Observer.
“We have a lot of empathy for people that are concerned about the growth and the growing pains. We understand it. But we also know that there's a lot of people moving here and we can't just put a gate up at the Florida-Georgia Line and say you can't come here any longer. So, yes, we need to try to accommodate that growth. But in a reasonable manner.”
With the victory lap over, construction will soon begin in earnest. Work is expected to begin early next year and the plan is for the center to be operational early in 2025.
Sysco is a Houston-based food and kitchen equipment distributor with $68 billion in sales in fiscal year 2022. The company operates 333 distribution facilities worldwide and has 71,000 employees. It services approximately 700,000 locations.
Locally, Sysco West Florida is based in Manatee County and services Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. The distribution center will be called Sysco Tampa Bay.
Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.