Caloosa Belle

EDC director ready to make a difference

Brent Kettler, new director of the Hendry County Economic Development Council is busy working to make Hendry County an even better place to live. (Submitted Photo)

Looking at the map, you can see that Hendry County is within easy traveling distance from so many hot tourist spots from Central Florida south.

And that is one of the things Brent Kettler, the new Executive Director of the Hendry County Economic Development Council, sees as a big plus.

Growing up, this graduate of Miami of Ohio University spent winters in Naples. He learned early to love the area and when he graduated and was able, he headed south.

He’s spent five years in regional economic development.

The first step in building an economic future, he said, is to “grow with what you have.”

What Hendry County has in abundance are natural gems, unspoiled land, a unique history, an Old Florida feeling and friendly people.

He assures you that “We don’t want to change this place.”

He notes that Florida’s population is growing exponentially and people are tired of the coast – that South Florida beach, bright lights feel with people herded in tight. Hendry County has the perfect antidote for “over-coasted” tourists looking for a different experience – natural and slower paced, brimming with genuine “Real Florida” wonders.

The idea is to offer additional experiences for folks who come for day trips so people can stay here and fall in love with Hendry County.

Of course, Hendry is short of hotel beds and that needs to be addressed before we can market ourselves as a place for genuine Old Florida day trips.

Brent sees the need for more walkable areas and is on board with the LaBelle Downtown Redevelopment Council’s (LDRC) concepts for LaBelle.

For Brent, it’s all about the charm of natural Florida and he sees the same passion for a “kinder gentler” experience in many of Florida’s tourists.

The EDC is currently redoing its website to reach out to more possible tourists with exactly what Hendry County has.

But it’s not all about tourism.

Small business is the economic backbone that drives this part of Florida, so he feels we need to be entrepreneurs. He wants others to see the market opportunities here.

Hendry needs to realize the value of specialized manufacturing.

Another asset for potential businesses is that Hendry is a lower cost of living from other areas of Florida.

For Brent, his number 1 mission is to partner with schools to grow our own employees. He envisions programs to identify ninth and tenth graders for vocational education – a major potential source of employment for many youth. He said Superintendent of Schools Paul Puletti also “gets it.”

He sees four hurdles in realizing this plan:
– administrative costs
– finding a minimum of ten students committed to specific classes
– finding an instructor
– and the most difficult issue – buying expensive equipment necessary for many vocational classes.

Overall, his office has four key initiatives:
– talent development
– commercial development
– small business development
– strategic funding

He is member of the LaBelle Redevelopment Council, Hendry County Education Improvement Task Force, Clewiston Rotary, Hendry County Youth and Professional Leadership programs, SWFL Workforce Development Board, Florida Heartland Economic Region of Opportunity Board, Glades County Regional Training Center Board, SWFL Regional Technology Partnership, Rocket Lounge Advisory Board and FMTC Strategic Advisory Committee.

With over 15 years of experience in the nuts and bolts of economic development, including technology, finance, process improvement and community development, Brent understands how to build a thriving community on its unique strengths.

Educationally, he hopes to focus on careers and add jobs to existing businesses so residents can make a living wage. We need to do the groundwork and train people for small business. Brent said he is impressed with the community’s open mindedness, despite the lack of economic development success thus far and wants everyone to continue to work together.

He admits it will take time to build the Hendry County he envisions but says, “I can see it.”