Incentives: Water Fallout- Northwest- Sept. 2003
Nestle, by far the nation's largest water bottler with a third of market share and over $2 billion in annual revenue, has begun building a $60-million facility on 200 acres near Blue Springs. Granted a permit through the Suwannee Water Management District, the company will draw all of its water from the springs for free.
Initially, 50 to 70 employees will earn $13 to $14 an hour bottling water under the Deer Park label. The plant could hire as many as 250 as it expands over the next five to 10 years. A Florida State University economic impact study estimated the county will receive up to $1.5 million annually in property taxes at buildout.
"It's the greatest boost this county has had in over a decade," says Keith Mixon, Madison's director of economic development. Mixon was instrumental in securing a $1.3-million Economic Development Transportation Fund grant for building a connector road from Nestle's plant to the nearest highway. That grant, however, has become a focus for Madison residents who feel local officials have handed Nestle the springs on a silver platter without adequate compensation. Among their complaints: The money was granted illegally and is a waste of taxpayer money.
"That grant is designated for companies who haven't committed to a location. Nestle had bought land, dug a well and built a pumping station long before the grant application," says local newspaper reporter Jackie Gillis. Resident Marianne Green agrees, adding that Nestle will receive tax breaks on employee payrolls, since Madison is a rural area of critical concern. "It amounts to government subsidy of the water bottling industry. We have a rare resource. They don't need inducement to come here."
Green and Gillis are also worried that since the plant is within a 30-minute commute for residents of five counties, its jobs may not all go to Madison residents. But Nestle natural resources manager Meg Andronaco says locals shouldn't worry. "We are going to be offering jobs and we will be paying taxes, a lot more than that land would be worth otherwise." She lists the many services the company will need locally as well: Propane supply, medical screening and care, uniform supply and cleaning, and landscaping maintenance.
Despite the conflict, construction is proceeding, and the plant is set to open by 2004. Still, Green bemoans what she sees as the county's lack of financial savvy. "We don't even get the name recognition of Blue Springs on the label. We should have at least fought for that."
IN THE NEWS
Chipley -- A critical state and local shortage of teachers has helped Chipola Junior College, renamed Chipola College to reflect its new four-year status, receive permission to begin offering four-year bachelor's of science degrees for secondary education in math and in science starting next year.
Escambia County -- County commissioners have approved the $1.6-million sale of the second of two land parcels involved in last year's commission corruption scandals, bringing the county's net loss to $1.7 million.
The school board voted in June to close charter school Gulf Coast High School after a student died on a beach field trip in May 2002 and school officials failed to correct problems found in the investigation of the drowning. Citing budget restraints, the board also voted to close 14 of the district's pre-kindergarten classes.
Okaloosa County -- The school district is investing $10.2 million in a series of "virtual technical institutes," where high school and middle school students can take college-level and industry certification courses offered by partner postsecondary institutions and businesses. A health sciences institute has been established in three Crestview schools with the Florida State College of Medicine and the West Florida Area Health Education Center. Aerospace, information technologies and construction schools are planned for 2004.
Panama City -- The FSU-Panama City campus has established the nation's first underwater crime scene investigation training program.
Panama City Beach -- The public portion of Pier Park, a 287-acre recreation, commercial and entertainment complex, has opened.
Panhandle -- The Florida Department of Health, with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is leading an investigation of nine drownings that occurred within 48 hours in seven coastal counties this June.
Pensacola -- New legislation signed by Gov. Jeb Bush upgraded the status of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition to a "state-level institute," giving the University of West Florida-associated research institution more autonomy in partnership and funding arrangements with governments, private companies and other research organizations. Only two other institutions have been created as statewide institutes -- the Moffitt Cancer Center and the Alzheimer's Institute, both in Tampa.
The University of West Florida will offer a new bachelor's degree program in hospitality, recreation and resort management this fall, incorporating resources from Pensacola Junior College and Florida International University.
Gulf Coast Community Bank, Pensacola's first new home-owned bank in more than a decade, has opened, with $10.5 million raised from more than 200 shareholders, 95% of whom are from the local area.
Tallahassee -- The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the estimated $6-million cleanup of coal-tar contaminated soil at Cascades Park, but project design and wrangling between the city and state over who will foot the bill mean the cleanup won't start for at least another year.
The U.S. Census Bureau decided to add Jefferson and Wakulla counties to Tallahassee's Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which had consisted of Leon and Gadsden counties, increasing the metro area's population more than 13% to almost 328,000.
Financial difficulties have prompted Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, the city's largest private employer, to lay off about 240 of its more than 3,000 employees. The layoffs save TMH an estimated $6 million.
Walton County -- EBSCO Gulf Coast Development has proposed the 599-home Somerset Beach project on 160 Gulf-front acres.