Posted On: June 13, 2019
Business has been good at Sparton DeLeon Springs, one of West Volusia’s largest employers – in fact, so good that its workforce has grown to more than 600 and is projected to expand even more. And that’s very good news for the local economy, in part because wages at the manufacturing giant tend to exceed the average pay in Central Florida.
With a larger staff, that means more work orders to process, more products to design, manufacture, and ship, more workers with money to spend in our community – more of virtually everything. That also includes more employees using the bathroom facilities and taxing the company’s 35-year-old wastewater disposal system. With the plant’s proximity to a sensitive watershed and no more than a mile from the natural springs at popular DeLeon Springs State Park, ensuring that Sparton’s waste disposal system continues to be safe and environmentally sound takes on great significance. Volusia County Government couldn’t agree more, which was the exact reason the County recently established an innovative water quality infrastructure grant program. And now Sparton DeLeon Springs has become the grant program’s first recipient.
It’s all part of a strengthening partnership between county government and the business community that’s paying numerous dividends to Volusia County in ways big and small. It’s also part of a growing recognition that good water quality and a strong economy are inextricably linked. After all, you can’t have one without the other.
Approved by the Volusia County Council in 2018, the in-house grant program provides financial assistance to businesses to help them pay for needed improvements to wastewater systems that serve their businesses and are located in environmentally sensitive areas, such as springsheds or coastal estuaries. But not just any businesses – specifically, qualified defense contractors and the aerospace industry. The program targets them because of their importance to the local economy and job market.
“Those are exactly the type of firms we want to prosper here going forward as part of diversifying our economy,” the county’s recently retired economic development director, Rob Ehrhardt, explained when the program was presented to the County Council in December. “They typically come with very high annual wages.”
For businesses that meet the program’s eligibility criteria, the idea is to provide them with incentives to locate, grow and thrive here, while at the same time helping those businesses to operate in harmony with Volusia County’s natural environment. In government parlance, that’s the ultimate win-win. And Sparton meets the program’s eligibility requirements by virtue of the fact that more than 70% of the gross receipts generated last year by the DeLeon Springs facility came from defense or space flight business. A major chunk of its business is manufacturing undersea sonobuoy detection devices for the U.S. military. The DeLeon Springs site is one of Sparton’s 13 manufacturing locations and engineering design centers around the world, with a global workforce in excess of 1,400 employees.
The County Council enthusiastically approved the water quality infrastructure grant program at its meeting on Dec. 18, 2018, and praised staff for putting it together.
“This is visionary leadership,” remarked County Council Member Deb Denys before joining the rest of her Council colleagues in unanimously approving the program. “This is cutting edge.”
And Council members were equally thrilled five months later when they unanimously voted to approve Sparton’s application for the grant funds because the money will help to improve water quality and support a highly valued, longtime business with deep roots in Volusia County. The application details Sparton’s plans to build a new wastewater treatment system on site that will increase capacity because of the growing need and significantly reduce nitrogen discharge. And that’s the kind of additional environmental protection the state had in mind when it designated DeLeon Springs an Outstanding Florida Springs.
“It will provide a safe and effective means of processing and disposing of the wastewater generated from the business,” states the application. Pursuant to the program, the county will reimburse Sparton for $500,000 of the expense to design and build its new waste system. The money is coming from budgeted funds in the county’s economic development incentive account. The work is tentatively scheduled to get underway in July.
County officials are unanimous that utilizing the grant program as both a water quality and economic development incentive just makes good sense. “Hopefully, this will be a model for other opportunities if they present themselves,” said Rick Karl, the county’s aviation and economic resources department director. To County Manager George Recktenwald, the grant program is another tool to help sure up environmental protections while supporting the county’s business retention and expansion efforts.
“We’re just very happy to have this tool in our tool box to help out our local companies,” said Recktenwald. “Sparton is a company that’s been long established here. We’re very fortunate to have them.”
That rationale made particularly good sense to County Council Member Heather Post. Because when it comes to economic development, efforts to land the big, new fish are often what generates the most headlines. But Post, along with the rest of the council, wants to make sure businesses that are already here get the attention and support they deserve.
“I’m very, very happy to see that we are providing you with the opportunities and the ability to expand within our county,” Post told Sparton officials before joining the rest of the council in approving the grant. “It’s a very win-win situation,” added Recktenwald.
Sparton DeLeon Springs General Manager Mark Madore said the company is delighted with the partnership it has forged with the county and the welcoming attitude in the community toward Sparton. It makes corporate decisions on where to locate and how much to invest in facilities, programs and payrolls that much easier.
“In business, it’s all about relationships,” said Madore. “After all, there are 600 employees and their families here who are depending on what we’re doing. It’s wonderful to see the support we have in the community and the value the county places on having us here. I think these relationships clearly demonstrate that Sparton is engaged with the community and committed to doing the right things to ensure that we have a clean, safe work environment and continue to be good neighbors.”
For his part, County Chair Ed Kelley hopes the Sparton grant was just the first of many for the county’s new program. The money spent, officials say, is an investment in our community and in our future.
“I know it’s needed,” said Kelley. “I hope there’ll be many more that will come from these funds to improve the water quality issues we face in Volusia County.”