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Incentives Lure Plastics Maker

By April Hunt | Sentinel Staff Writer

March 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

KISSIMMEE -- Jose Perez took the advice given to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. He is bringing the future -- plastics -- to Osceola County.

Perez plans to open P.R. Manufacturing in the Poinciana Industrial Park in the next month and a half. During the next three years, the plastics company will add at least 60 new jobs as it moves from a service-and-repair shop into a business that makes tools and molds for various products.

"We had almost locked into a location in Orange County when we started talking to Osceola, and the incentive programs and the work force brought us here," said Perez, who has managed and worked at a plastics company in Orange for 13 years.

The company will receive $240,000 from the state in incentives, with Osceola chipping in another $60,000, to create the jobs. The new positions will pay an average of $40,768 a year, significantly higher than the county's average wage of $22,699.

It is the first time that the county's economic-development office, which has been operating for two years, has awarded incentives to a Hispanic-owned business. Nearly one-third of Osceola's residents are Hispanic,most of them Puerto Rican.

"Diversity helps us diversify our economy, because we have more to offer to businesses," county economic-development director Maria Grulich said.

The county has targeted several industries to bring to the county to lessen its dependence on low-wage service industry jobs. Instead of aiming for high-tech -- and high-education -- positions, Osceola wants first to lure warehouses, offices and manufacturing plants into its borders.

Commissioner Atlee Mercer said that strategy will allow the county to move slowly toward higher-end jobs by educating its workers over time instead of needing to import workers.

"This is the perfect kind of transition operation," Mercer said of P.R. Manufacturing. "There are high-tech jobs in plastics, but first you need a base to develop into those jobs."

The news comes just a month after Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse announced Osceola will become home to its newest regional-distribution center.

That company has already broken ground on Ham Brown Road on a $73 million project that will employ more than 600 people when it is fully up and running in 2007. All of the jobs will pay at least 15 percent more than the county's average wage, the region's lowest and one of the lowest in the state.

Perez said he plans to offer some on-the-job training and work with area technical schools to train workers to qualify for such a high salary. He was pleasantly surprised, though, to learn that many machinists and toolmakers already are trained to do the work he needs.

Perez said he hopes also to offer workers a chance to continue with their education and will support programs in the community.

The name of the company does not refer to Puerto Rico, although Perez is a native of the island. A New Jersey plastics firm, Lincoln Tool and Die, is a minority partner in the project and is owned by a man named Raymonds.

"A lot of people make it Puerto Rico instead of Perez-Raymonds, but that could turn out well for us," Perez said. "I cannot deny my Hispanic feelings and wanting to help people. I have seen Osceola grow, and now I can be a part of it."

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