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AUBURNDALE, FL-Coca-Cola Co. has officially opened “the largest Minute Maid operation in the world” at a $113 million, 620,000-sf citrus juice production facility in Auburndale, FL, Polk County business development director Jim DeGennaro tells GlobeSt.com. The site is 60 miles south of Downtown Orlando.

Two years in the planning stage and only nine months in the construction phase, the new plant is producing orange juice now and plans to produce its Power Aid and clear water brands later. The plant opened with 88 workers–will grow to 100 by July–and expects to have a workforce of 300 by 2006, DeGennaro says.

“I like to say Polk County is the Pete Rose of baseball–without the gambling stigma,” DeGennaro tells GlobeSt.com. “In the economic development arena, we generally hit singles and sometimes a few doubles, but this time we hit a homerun,” in attracting the Atlanta-based company to Auburndale.

To sweeten the deal, Coke will be receiving a $4 million economic incentives package from the state, spread over four years. Polk County is waiving $250,000 in impact fees. And the Auburndale Community Redevelopment Agency is assisting with the plant’s utility improvements.

Coke built the plant on a fast construction track. “They came to see us in March 2002, broke ground in July 2002 and started initial production in April 2003,” DeGennaro says.

He calls the entire venture “fantastic, ” largely because the estimated economic impact to Polk County this year alone will be $18 million, based on payroll figures, business for local vendors and taxes.

The 92-year-old community, part of the Lakeland, FL metropolitan area, has a permanent population of 11,167, according to the University of Florida’s research department. Auburndale has long been known as a center of warehousing, manufacturing and distribution and competes fiercely with Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville for new business, area industrial real estate brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

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