In a remarkable development, the County Commission voted to enter into a partnership with Algenol that costs the taxpayer's $10 million and produces, at its start, only 120 jobs.
At first glance, this might sound like a bad deal. However, as a catalyzing of the sort of diversified economy that Lee County is practically dying for it may be the smartest investment of tax dollars yet.
Yesterdays (February 2) vote ushers in a new era for Fort Myers. Algenol, as part of a contract now agreed to, will begin setting up their headquarters on a location on Alico Road along with a laboratory and a 40- acre algae farm.
This proximity to FGCU and the Southwest International Airport has several benefits.
Firstly, Algenol is also entering into a partnership to begin the Innovation Hub which will be an area meant to attract more future-geared businesses into the area. It will also attract students and faculty of other universities with concentrations in the bio-sciences to the area and will dramatically increase the prestige of FGCU, Lee County and Southwest Florida in general.
The Innovation Hub will actually be visible to flyers coming into Southwest Florida International Airport and will become a potent public relations symbol of the new green-conscious status of Lee County.
Let's talk about why Algenol means so much. The Algenol process uses many species of blue-green algae that feed on carbon waste and saltwater to produce a cheap product that is of vast importance to the American economy: ethanol. Thus far, ethanol has been produced by a process involving corn which means competition with corn as a foodstuff. Since algae has no place on the dinner table its use by Algenol will increase potable water, oxygen and domestic-based fuel.
Algenol is at the cutting-edge of the bio-fuel industry. One of Algenol's founders and CEO, Paul Woods, is also a resident of Lee County.
Its end product, ethanol, can replace foreign sources of oil, does not require the use of fossil fuel based fertilizer, and produces its own nitrogen. It has less impact on soil than raising corn, in other words and will bolster the U.S. economy as the process is refined since less imports will be required and the overall cost of fuel for the average citizen can be reduced. Right now, 25% of the corn crop is used to produce pricey ethanol. So the switch to the algae-based process holds tremendous promise.
Some are opposed to the County Commissioner's use of ad valorem tax dollars to subsidize an operation like Algenol but it must be remembered that those monies were set aside for the express purpose of diversifying the Lee County Economy.
The need for diversifying Lee County's economy became very clear after the bursting of the housing bubble. Since our economy depended mostly on construction and tourism dollars this lead to soaring unemployment and high bankruptcy and foreclosure rates.
The Innovation Hub which will result will doubtless, although it will take some time, bring in much revenue and jobs to the area.