Area leaders have traditionally snapped to attention whenever the U.S. military comes calling. But as recently as two years ago, some were quietly grumbling about the dwindling economic importance of the region's military-industrial complex.- St. Johns is the only northeast county to have a higher per capita income than the state average: $43,671 vs. $30,654.
The federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which boarded up west Jacksonville's Cecil Field Naval Air Station in the late 1990s, was poised to claim one of the area's four remaining naval installations. And the Navy's low wages were increasingly viewed as a drag on an otherwise booming local economy.
Then came Sept. 11 and the buildup for war with Iraq that has re-established the area's large military presence as one of its greatest strengths. Bases are secure, sailors are better paid and the military has pledged close to $700 million in support contracts to area firms for the coming year.
"Our annual economic impact is in excess of $6 billion," says Capt. Hardy Kircher, commander, Navy Region Southeast Chief of Staff. "The economic impact of the maintenance of the USS John F. Kennedy (at Naval Station Mayport) this year alone will be approximately $600 million."
"Northeast Florida is vital to the nation's military operations," says U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "We have the only deep-water port (Naval Station Mayport) with immediate access to the Atlantic Ocean. The concentration and variety of military assets in northeast Florida make it key to the national security plan, and I am working to see that represented in the budgets Congress adopts."
Meanwhile, economic developers are hoping to keep the region growing by building on Jacksonville's ongoing urban renewal and improving land-use planning in rural counties. Education -- Duval County has one of the worst-performing school districts in the state -- will be a bigger challenge.
JACKSONVILLE & Duval County
KEY TREND: For years the mantra for downtown revitalization was "build it (housing), and they will come." The moment of truth has arrived. With dozens of new rental and condo units poised to flood the market, developers hope the demand remains in what many fear is a softening market.
PERSON TO WATCH: The hiring of Neil Armingeon as the new St. Johns River riverkeeper signals a shift in tactics -- from conciliation to litigation -- by those looking to clean up the river. Armingeon replaced Mike Hollingsworth, whose emphasis on public education and negotiation was reportedly at odds with members of the board who want to get tough on polluters.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: CSX Corp. has announced it will shift its corporate headquarters from Richmond, Va., to Jacksonville, where most of its employees are based. CSX becomes only the second Fortune 500 company to call the city home. The other is Winn-Dixie.
KEY TREND: After a two-year ban, people are once again free to paint, parade and manufacture palm-frond hats along the historic St. George Street pedestrian mall. The vote by a new majority on the city commission portends a souring of relations with local merchants who fought for years to rid the street of itinerant artists and minstrels.
PERSON TO WATCH: Street entertainment is back, and a proposed $4.4-million downtown parking garage has been scrapped -- and St. Augustine Mayor George Gardner's term has just begun. The mayor has announced an aggressive agenda that includes organizing neighborhood councils to give residents greater input into city affairs.
St. Johns County
BUSINESS TO WATCH: Ring Power Corp.'s dance with county officials recently ended with the company getting an incentives package potentially worth $1.6 million -- the first of its kind in county history. Officials hope the heavy equipment retailer's new 380,000-sq.-ft. headquarters will jump-start development in the 1,000-acre World Commerce Center near World Golf Village.
PERSON TO WATCH: Rodolfo Engmann is a principal with The Knowledge Guild, an innovative, Ponte Vedra Beach-based consulting firm that specializes in executive leadership, finance, marketing and strategic planning. While the company has a growing list of for-profit clients, its work building the capacity of area nonprofits is gaining widespread recognition.
PERSON TO WATCH: Admirers say Fernandina Beach Mayor Joe Gerrity has brought a much-needed business perspective to the city commission, as well as a desire to reach consensus on issues that have long divided the city. He's credited with trying to bridge the gap between growth and no-growth factions and foster better relations with county officials.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: BETA-1, a for-profit business incubator, plans to open a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility this summer that will include manufacturing, laboratory and office space. The 2-year-old Amelia Island company works primarily with emerging medical device companies, offering management guidance and seed capital. The new facility will have room for 10 to 16 startups.
PERSON TO WATCH: Kellie Jo Kilberg is the county's new economic development czar, replacing Orien Pass, who retired after 13 years as executive director of the Economic Development Authority, the Economic Development Council and the chamber of commerce. Clay County saw unprecedented growth during Pass' reign, a pace Kilberg will be challenged to maintain during more difficult economic times.
BUSINESSES TO WATCH: While development grabs headlines, the county is quietly growing into a hub for healthcare and related services thanks largely to industry giant HCA. In addition to operating the county's largest private sector employer, Orange Park Medical Center, the company also runs HCA Patient Account Services, a back-office firm that is Clay's second-largest employer with close to 600 workers.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: Sykes Enterprises' Palatka office continues to grow into one of the county's largest employers. Though open just 18 months, the Tampa-based customer service giant recently hired more than 100 workers and is nearing 500 employees.
PERSON TO WATCH: Veteran Putnam Chamber of Commerce President Wes Larson is about to see one of his longtime dreams come true. Construction should begin soon on a 50,000-sq.-ft. "magnet" building in the county's nascent business park adjacent to Kay Larkin Airport. Larson is looking for a manufacturer or product assembly company to lease the building, set to open early next year.
KEY TREND: Northeast Florida's least populated county is primed for a residential housing boom. Following International Paper's sale of 47,000 acres of timberland last year, more than a dozen developers have some 400 units under construction. Soon to come: Baker's first planned unit development, 126-acre Cypress Pointe in Macclenny.
POPULATION TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Baker22,99723,4271.87%2.35%1.53%Clay147,070150,8152.55%2.54%2.41%Duval809,427821,1841.45%1.60%1.23%Nassau61,28662,7882.45%3.13%2.34%Putnam71,12671,4710.49%0.55%0.76%St. Johns134,212138,6973.34%4.14%3.06%FLORIDA16,689,00216,977,8901.73%2.08%1.75%
JOB TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Baker5,7655,8591.63%2.18%1.38%Clay42,41543,5212.61%3.50%3.15%Duval477,871488,3342.19%2.39%1.88%Nassau16,74317,1052.16%1.23%1.95%Putnam18,07018,5022.39%-0.04%1.64%St. Johns43,40144,6292.83%2.92%2.59%FLORIDA7,318,6977,488,0472.31%2.45%2.16%
POPULATION BY AGEYears of AgeCounty0-1415-1920-3940-6465+TOTALBaker21.6%8.2%29.7%30.8%9.7%23,427Clay22.0%7.9%25.7%33.9%10.5%150,815Duval21.8%7.0%29.9%30.8%10.5%821,184Nassau20.0%7.1%24.1%35.8%13.0%62,788Putnam19.7%6.7%21.4%33.3%18.9%71,471St. Johns17.5%6.8%22.5%36.8%16.4%138,697FLORIDA18.5%6.5%25.4%32.0%17.6%16,977,890
PER CAPITA INCOMEPer Capita
Income 2003Source of IncomeCountyLaborPropertyTransferBaker$21,21269.5%10.8%19.7%Clay$27,53572.4%15.2%12.4%Duval$29,74270.4%16.1%13.5%Nassau$30,10366.7%20.2%13.1%Putnam$20,39354.0%17.7%28.3%St. Johns$43,67165.5%24.1%10.4%FLORIDA$30,65460.2%23.7%16.1%
SOURCE: "Florida Long-Term Economic Forecast 2002," the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida. Data are estimates or projections. Population data include military stationed in Florida and inmates. Jobs data measure civilian, nonagricultural wage and salary positions. Property income includes rent, dividend and interest payments; transfer income includes retirement, veterans and unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid and income assistance.