AVON PARK — Once the word got out that as many as 100 new jobs in one Avon Park location would be available, Joe Miceli and Rebel Miller expected a few knocks on their office door.
But since early May, there has been an almost metronomic pace of taps at the entrance to Florida Agricultural Plastic Recyclers (FLAG) Plastics, a new, low-density polyethylene agricultural film recycling specialist, said Miceli, company president. Additionally, the company plans to have the warehouse factory at 90 W. Orange St. fully operational by the end of July.
Housed in a former citrus packing warehouse built in 1961, FLAG is forecasting it will take in and recycle up to 40 million pounds of plastics per year from North Carolina south, which would otherwise go to landfills.
Once recycled at his plant, those landfills would become less flooded with material that could be reused.
As he went over paperwork and with a stack of applications next to him Monday, Miller, FLAG plant manager, said he expected to have “everything in position” to open within two weeks.
He said electrical work needs to be finished, namely getting engineer schematics approved and electrical work started and having Duke Energy install a new 6,000-amp transformer to power the plant.
“Then, we’ll be able to plug in and play; we just hook up and we’re ready to go,” said Miller, manager of FLAG’s smaller, 10,000-square-foot plant recycling 30 million pounds of dirty agricultural film per year — Omni Recycling Group — in LaBelle.
The 65,000-square-foot Avon Park facility will initially will have two plastics wash lines and be able to clean and sell almost six months-worth of reused agricultural plastics.
In addition to the 30 million pounds of ag-plastic ready to be shipped from Omni to Avon Park, more will be aggregated and sold by year’s end, Miceli said.
“We are currently aggregating 30 to 40 million pounds annually that we have contracted with farmers throughout Florida and adjacent states,” he said.
The plant has gotten close to open and functioning through about $1 million invested by a group of Brazilian investors under the guidance of company CFO Youris Zubchevich, who funded the initial capital to open the plant.
Situated on eight acres south of Lake Isis Avenue east of north Central Avenue, Miller said despite the assistance of CareerSource Florida with filtering applications, FLAG has had no shortage of qualified applicants.
He said most come from industrial warehouse and fabrications industries. He said he and Miceli were very surprised at the number of applications coming in — up to 40 to 50 per day, and by the time FLAG is running at capacity, about 100 positions would be utilized.
“I didn’t think so many would come in so quickly; a lot of these have come in through word of mouth and there have been quite a few that we can use,” he said.
As Miller spoke about the plant’s opening, Rhonda Vanhorn stopped by to add her application to the stack on Miller’s desk.
The Avon Park resident said a neighbor told her about the openings and she decided to put her name in for a job, which will pay from $10 to $15 per hour, depending on experience.
“I’m looking for anything. This is good because it’s close to home and this brings in new (job) opportunities to Avon Park,” she said.
The prospect of a such a large industry opening in Avon Park will be an economic boon to not only the city, but Highlands County, too, said Steve Weeks, executive director of the Highlands County Economic Development Commission (EDC).
He said he was looking forward to what kind of economic impact FLAG might bring to the area and hoped its operations would be successful enough to expand.
“There is demand here for industries this size. There are people here who want to do work, and we here at the EDC are out shaking the bushes to bring more industry into the area,” he said.
The facility will help the effort in recycling about 250 pounds of plastic per acre used in Florida’s tomato fields and 260 pounds in strawberry fields, said Gene Jones, CEO, Southern Waste Information Exchange Inc.
He is the sponsor of the 2014 Agricultural Plastics Recycling Conference & Trade Show to be held July 20 to 22 in Marco Island, which Miller and Miceli plan to attend.