Relocations: CSX's Train of Thought- Northeast- May 2003
Jacksonville saw its corporate profile diminish in the 1990s as a series of mergers and acquisitions -- most notably NationBank's purchase of home-grown Barnett Bank -- pushed local offices down the corporate food chain. Now, CSX becomes the second Fortune 500 company to call the city home -- Winn-Dixie is the other -- and the state's 12th.
The man behind the move is CSX's new chairman, president and CEO, Michael Ward, the son of a Baltimore pool hall owner who began his railroad career 26 years ago as a research analyst with the old Chessie System. Ward replaced John Snow, whom President George Bush appointed secretary of the Treasury in January.
With 5,200 of CSX's 35,000 employees based in Jacksonville, Ward says it made sense to move the company's headquarters to its longtime railroad hub. (The Richmond office was a "neutral site" that never had more than 150 employees.)
Ward, who has been based in Jacksonville for five years, says the relocation also reflects CSX's renewed commitment to its key business -- moving everything from coal to cardboard over the company's massive network, which handles most rail traffic east of the Mississippi.
CSX became the nation's third-largest railroad when it acquired Philadelphia-based Conrail in 1999. Absorbing Conrail proved difficult for CSX, creating a huge financial hole out of which the company is still digging. Ward says CSX recently reported its first positive cash flow since the merger and is slowly reducing its debt-to-equity ratio.
The Conrail deal also hurt CSX's customer relations and employee morale and threatened its good safety record -- three points Ward says will be the focus of his chairmanship: "If we concentrate on our customers, safety and our people, I'm convinced the profits will follow."
Though the 52-year-old San Marco resident has become one of Jacksonville's most sought-after CEOs, Ward has declined invitations to join civic and charitable boards, preferring instead to focus on CSX's "economic health." Like many, Ward lists improving public education as the city's chief concern. For now, though, he says he's content encouraging his employees to work individually to improve the
"I think the best thing I can do for this city is to make sure CSX continues to grow and be successful," says Ward.
IN THE NEWS
ALACHUA COUNTY -- County and local governments, including Gainesville, have joined forces in a program aimed at predicting and managing growth. The Countywide Visioning and Planning Process will develop a conceptual land-use plan the county will incorporate into its comprehensive plan.
CLAY COUNTY -- Voters rejected a proposal that would have raised the local option sales tax a half-cent to pay for school construction. The referendum failed despite the vocal support of most of the county's elected leaders and business groups. Following the vote, county commissioners voted to levy impact fees on new homes to help close the growing school funding gap.
COLUMBIA COUNTY -- Government continues to be the largest employer in Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist and Union counties, with 4,300 workers. State forecasters predict the sector will add 100 employees per year through the end of the decade.
JACKSONVILLE -- Citibank will build a major office complex in the Flagler Center development near the St. Johns County line, making room for the company's credit-card division to hire an additional 400 employees. The $90-million, 500,000-sq.-ft. operations and technology center should break ground in the fall and open in early 2005.
Edward Waters College will finance construction of a $2-million housing development it hopes will lure new homeowners to the school's inner-city neighborhood. Edward Waters President Jimmy Jenkins predicts the 13 two- and three-bedroom homes -- priced at $80,000 to $90,000 -- will spur additional construction and help boost the surrounding area.
The city is building a 310-acre park on the Intracoastal Waterway that will include a pavilion, education building, hiking trails, canoe launch and picnic areas. Castaway Island Preserve will offer the only public access on the west bank of the waterway.
The 322-acre Skinner Wholesale Nurseries property is being sold one piece at a time, with the first 11.3-acre slice going to TT of Jacksonville Inc. for $4.18 million. TT plans to build an auto dealership on the land near Highway 9A and Baymeadows Road.
Celebrity Cruises will begin offering cruise service from the Dames Point Marine Terminal to the Caribbean starting this fall.
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS -- American Access Technologies is teaming with California-based Chatsworth Products in a $250,000 deal to develop, manufacture and market units that store telecommunications equipment in ceilings, raised floors and custom furniture.
LAKE CITY -- The Trust for Public Land donated a 1.4-acre parcel just south of Lake City to the state as part of the trust's Ichetucknee Springs Initiative. The land, which had been poised for development, includes part of a half-acre sinkhole that connects to an underground network of limestone caves and channels that feeds the seven springs making up the Ichetucknee system.
NASSAU COUNTY -- Nassau County coordinator Walt Gossett resigned after a county commissioner accused him of lying about the botched cleanup of an old landfill. The Department of Environmental Protection is investigating complaints that Gossett allowed possibly contaminated water from the recently discovered dumpsite to be pumped onto private property prior to testing.
The state acquired 105-acre Martin's Island, ending years of debate over possible development of the barrier beach located on the northern tip of Amelia Island. Plans call for the island, which is accessible only by boat, to become an eco-tourism educational center overseen by Fort Clinch State Park.
PALATKA -- Trusses Unlimited is moving into a new 50,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility off U.S. 17. The company expects to double its output of wood trusses and hire an additional 20 employees.
Palatka Main Street, a federally funded initiative aimed at revitalizing the city's downtown, wants local officials to add recreational opportunities along the St. Johns riverfront and attract outdoor cafes and specialty shops to the struggling commercial district. The first step is to create riverfront and commercial zoning districts that permit a greater variety of land uses.
ST. AUGUSTINE -- The Monson Riverfront Inn, the site of a civil rights standoff in 1964, was demolished to make way for a $6-million, 44,800-sq.-ft. hotel and underground garage. The inn's outdoor pool became a symbol of the battle against segregation when its former owner was photographed pouring acid into the water to chase away a group of African-American bathers.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY -- Pittsburgh-based Hillman Properties unveiled plans for World Golf Village's first resort and spa community. Laterra will include nearly 400 residences and a spa designed by architect Robert D. Henry, whose past projects include Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.
GAINESVILLE -- A divided City Commission approved a new "living wage" of $8.70 an hour plus health benefits -- $9.95 an hour without benefits -- for employees of private companies working on city contracts.