Economic Yearbook 2005 - Big Bend Region
Road to Growth
Big Bend region of north Florida developing potential to become a crossroads for manufacturing and distribution.
Big Bend's location at a regional crossroads may have helped the area realize its sizable employment gains last year -- 3.6% overall, matching the state's overall employment growth rate of 3.5%. Several manufacturing and distribution businesses opened, many of them construction-oriented and most locating close to interstate highways.
"Growth in the Southeast as a whole is the most important thing happening to us,'' says Jim Poole, executive director of the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority. He cites newcomers "taking advantage of the growth in Florida and proximity to I-10 and I-75."
Madison County and its municipalities have partnered to attract manufacturers, sharing the $6-million tab for a project to extend sewer and water lines to four highway interchanges. "When they find out we don't have water and sewer there, they pass us up,'' says Paula Arnold, Madison County Chamber of Commerce president and tourism and economic development director.
Some leaders are turning away from efforts to catch industries' attention, eyeing tourism potential instead. The area is simply not attracting traditional industrial development, says Julie Conley, executive director for economic development in Jefferson County -- which recently organized a Tourist Development Council.
NEW COMPANIESSmithfield Packing Co. bought the Dixie Packers manufacturing plant in Madison from Winn-Dixie, saving 500 jobs.
New Millennium Building Systems invested $32 million in a new Lake City plant that makes steel joists and girders. The Steel Dynamics Co. subsidiary could reach 100 employees this month.
The $11-million Hunter Panels plant, now at 50 employees, opened in June in Lake City. The maker of roof insulation has seen increased demand in the aftermath of Florida storms.
Frito Lay's $1.5-million regional distribution center at Midway's 10/90 Industrial Park will deliver snack products to retailers in Gadsden and four neighboring counties, creating an estimated 30 jobs.
Ellenwood, Ga.-based independent tire company and Goodyear dealer Kauffman Tire is building a $2.5-million regional distribution center on 10 acres at 10/90 Industrial Park at Midway, expected to create 25 to 30 jobs. Park location and access to I-10 were factors in the site-choice, says Chairman John Kauffman.
EXPANSIONSChris Brown's 3-year-old Suwannee River Tours in Chiefland is an outfitter for tourists discovering old Florida along the Suwannee River. It's also a concessionaire for three state parks on the lower river. It gets 10,000 website hits a week, up from 40 weekly two years ago. Camping trip reservations for March and April were up by nearly 60% from a year ago as of mid-February. May 2004 receipts increased 119% from a year earlier.
TIMCO Aviation Services' rebound after the Sept. 11, 2001, setback puts the Lake City aircraft maintenance and repair plant at 904 employees, more than double the late-2001 level. Accelerating growth: Increased airline outsourcing plus commercial air freight and military work. Gov. Jeb Bush gave the plant a Governor's Business Diversification Award for 2004.
Energy Saving Products of Florida is on its second expansion project that will add 35,000 square feet and another 10 employees, bringing payroll to 140. The summer's hurricanes accelerated demand for the Jasper plant's aluminum and vinyl doors and windows.
Home-owned and launched in 2003, Custom Design Industries in Perry builds aluminum toolboxes and truck accessories. It now employs 38.
Mainline Information Systems, an Inc. 500 Hall of Fame company, is still growing, logging $455 million in 2004 sales, nearly 14% over 2003. The private, Tallahassee-based company employs 318 and is the fastest-growing North American solution provider and installer of IBM mid-range e-servers.
TALLAHASSEE & Leon County
The Tallahassee City Commission may try to force residential developers in the county to include mixed-income dwellings in their projects, so prospective buyers won't be forced to cross the county line for housing. Average sale price of a Leon County home is up 46% since 1999, to $189,834...
The startup of the Florida State University Medical School will help healthcare delivery become more important in the Tallahassee area, predicts Wayne Harris, vice president of technology and development with the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce...
Major downtown redevelopment activity is expected this year. Paving the way: The city's acquisition of 22 acres in the Gaines Street corridor, completion of a strategy for construction and adoption of a redevelopment district to provide tax increment financing...
"Job growth has been steady and mostly homegrown," says city economic development Director Michael Parker. "It's probably just as well to focus on expansions and entrepreneurial development rather than just try to recruit the large manufacturers or blue chips."
Notable Names: Sonny Granger, president of Pensacola-based Granger Development, helped pioneer Tallahassee's urban core renewal with the Tennyson, a posh, $25-million, 14-story condominium and the first high-rise residential project downtown just four blocks from the Capitol, to be completed by year-end...
Brad Day, 37, joined the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County in January as its first full-time executive director, giving his boss, Sue Dick, a chance to concentrate on just one job, president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. Day formerly held a combined economic development and chamber post in Jefferson County, Ga., where his trophy project was helping a business double in size for an additional 161 jobs.
Lafayette / Suwannee / Madison Counties
Notable Names: Stephen and Rae Pike are converting Madison's first Presbyterian Church, built in 1851, into a wedding chapel. The former manse on the grounds is becoming a four-bedroom bed-and-breakfast; the fellowship hall will become a teahouse and reception hall. Their $400,000 project also reinstalls the original church organ and bell.
Hamilton / Columbia Counties
Notable Name: Glenn Richards of Jacksonville will open a jai-alai fronton in Hamilton County by the July 4th weekend and a horse racetrack within two years, investments that could total $30 million and create 130 jobs. Richards, CEO of Richmond Entertainment, also is planning 18 six-acre horse ranches and several housing projects in the county.
Jefferson / Gadsden / Wakulla Counties
Notable Name: "I live on the most interesting piece of swamp in the world,'' says Joe Barry, who's planning to share its attractions -- including alligators, turtles and lots of birds -- with other environmentalists at a $4.5-million, 71-room nature-based hotel he's planning. The Inn at Wildwood could open in October. It's near Wakulla, 15 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and within an hour of 10 rivers.
Taylor / Gilchrist Counties
Notable Name: Carol McQueen, mayor for 11 years of tiny Fanning Springs, a historic fort town spanning Gilchrist and Levy counties, is spearheading two projects to enhance tourism: The Fort Fanning Historical Park and amphitheater at the site of the 1836-built fort overlooking the Suwannee River; and a deal to connect the town to the Nature Coast State Trail. "We're one of the last frontiers of what Florida used to look like,'' says McQueen, who's also just completed a term as chairman of the 4-year-old tri-county board promoting eco-tourism.
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