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Miami Today News - Feb 21, 2002

Expanding agribusiness in Liberty City to add 60 jobs

By Sherri C. Ranta

A $4.6 million expansion at Leasa Industries Co., a Liberty City grower of beans and alfalfa sprouts, is expected to create 60 jobs next year.

Public and private funds from the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust, the Miami-Dade Task Force for Urban Revitalization, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Union Planters Bank will allow construction of an added 33,000 square feet for company operations in the Poinciana Industrial Center, officials said.

Empowerment Trust President Bryan K. Finnie said the expansion is the first of many projects the public-private development group hopes to encourage at the Liberty City center and part of the county's empowerment zone.

"The PIC will be the empowerment zone's signature industrial real estate development initiative for years to come," he said. The trust works to stimulate development in certain economically distressed areas throughout the county. Businesses there can take advantage of special incentives, such as financing and tax breaks.

Leasa Industries, at 2450 NW 76th St., now employs about 75 and is considered one of the largest producers of tofu in Florida, said President and founder George Yap. He started the company in 1977.

The expansion, adjacent to the current warehouse, will enlarge the company's operations, Mr. Yap said, to about 60,000 square feet. Construction is expected to begin in March and take 10 to 12 months.

"We hope to double the output and double the work force," he said.

Leasa's sprouts and tofu are hydroponically grown, Mr. Yap said, using purified water. The company also packages vegetables and distributes 25 retail items through stores such as Publix, Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart and IGA Grocery. Leasa products, he said, are sold throughout the US including Alaska and Puerto Rico and in Aruba and the Cayman Islands.

Financing for the expansion, Mr. Finnie said, includes an $800,000 equity investment by the Empowerment Trust, an $800,000 loan from the Miami-Dade Task Force for Urban Revitalization, a $1.5 million federal grant from HUD and a $1.5 million loan by Union Planters Bank. The HUD grant, officials said, funded a necessary environmental cleanup.

The empowerment trust, Mr. Finnie said, helped Leasa arrange financing and provided the company an $800,000 investment in its real estate, whereby bank officials could leverage a private loan.

"Part of the reason Union Planters made the loan," he said, "is we assured them they would have enough collateral and capital investments to leverage the loan."

The empowerment trust, Mr. Finnie said, is seeking about $5 million in state funds this legislative session. The trust is also funded by the federal government.