Around the State- Northeast- Feb. 2002
JEDC's new chief, Kirk Wendland, confronts issues that could turn a plum post into a pickle.
By Chuck Day
These are precarious times for the new executive director of Jacksonville's Economic Development Commission, Kirk Wendland. Mayor John Delaney -- who leaves office in 18 months -- appointed Wendland as successor to Mike Weinstein after a long, nationwide search in which Wendland reportedly was not the mayor's first choice. Only after three out-of-town candidates withdrew -- mainly over fears they would be replaced when a new mayor is elected -- did Delaney tap Wendland. As he takes the reins, the City Council is reviewing the commission's incentives policy, which critics frequently assail as a stimulus for urban sprawl.
Q: What are your key opportunities and challenges as you begin your first full year?
A: We've gone through an infancy stage where a few years ago Jacksonville may have been happy to attract whatever jobs came along. To a degree, that contributed to a reputation of our being a back-office community. We're not closing the door to those jobs, but we'll focus public funds on attracting corporate headquarters and technical and high-wage jobs. JEDC will be evaluated intently over the next 18 months. ... We have broad-based community support, but there are those who have issues with us.
Q: Incentives remain a lightning-rod topic. How will it be resolved?
A: Incentives aren't going away. Companies considering expansion and relocation aren't naive and know what's available. If, at the end of the day, your assistance is zero, you won't get far. To attract corporate headquarters, we must stay in the game, do our due diligence, use resources wisely and continue to avoid bidding wars.
Q: What factors might critics of incentives overlook?
A: What gets lost is what the city gets. Critics see a recently passed project for downtown's Southbank as a $15-million giveaway. Yet over 20 years our schools get $28 million in tax revenues. Duval County nets $17 million, while the company in question invests $80 million in our city. Generally, we probably do only 20% to 30% of the projects proposed to us. Most people see only those that already have been through a vigorous screening process.
Q: There's political pressure to grow Jacksonville's north and west sides. What's the best way to do that?
A: It's not easy because government can do only so much. Infrastructure -- getting water and new sewers to those areas -- is vital. So is an emphasis on housing because the population base is a factor. We're trying to jump-start these areas.
Q: How should Jacksonville maintain its momentum?
A: By keeping growth steady, consistent and by remaining proactive.
In the News
Gainesville -- University of Florida engineering students have designed two robots for golfers. "Li'l Golfing Buddy" finds the tee and sets up the ball for driving. "RoboWoods" putts the ball into the hole. Anyone willing to buy a $500 putter should also consider a $500 robot to putt the ball, they reason.
Jacksonville -- Hamburg Sud, parent company of Crowley American Transport and a major worldwide container shipping line, has tapped Jacksonville's port for its expanded South American service. Port officials estimate the deal could generate more than $1 million in revenues annually. Cargo shipped to South America from Jacksonville jumped more than 20% during the first nine months of 2001 -- while falling an average of 6.3% at other U.S. ports.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Jacksonville Port Authority have begun to deepen 14.7 miles of the St. Johns River channel from 38 feet to 40 feet. The $31.6-million, two-year project begins at the river's mouth and ends at Drummond Point. Port authority officials have asked the corps to study the costs of continuing the dredging to the Talleyrand docks closer to downtown.
Pilot Pen Corp. has completed a 100,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its manufacturing and distribution center and is shifting production of the G2 Gel Ink pen there from Japan. The $10-million expansion is adding 27 jobs this quarter.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York was selected to design the new $95-million library. The 300,000-sq.-ft. structure, part of the Better Jacksonville Plan approved by voters in 2000, is to open next year.
Construction crews have broken ground on Jacksonville's $125-million arena and a $25-million baseball park, the new home of the Class AA Suns. The city also has four downtown housing projects totaling 1,800 residential units either under construction or in the works, including Berkman Plaza, The Shipyards and, most recently, The Strand at St. Johns on the Southbank.
Atlanta-based Morrison Homes is expanding in northeast Florida. It has begun building homes in Julington Creek Plantation and expects to be active in three or four other neighborhoods this year, says Jeff Agar, vice president of operations.
Northwest Airlines this month begins offering non-stop Canadair Regional Jet service between its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub and Jacksonville International Airport, while Continental Airlines revived its non-stop Jacksonville-Cleveland route, at least through April. At the same time, Air Canada ended non-stop service between Jacksonville and Toronto.
Oversight of the chamber of commerce's small-business activities has shifted to Cornerstone, the chamber's economic development arm, under a restructuring. Cornerstone initiatives brought 2,600 jobs to the six-county region during the past year, plus $245 million in investment that led to 3,300 additional jobs, says Carol Thompson, Cornerstone chairwoman.
Nassau County -- Fernandina Beach's City Commission again has rejected an ordinance that would allow voters to determine their city's population density and give them a voice in the town's growth management. But the city has adopted a restructured tree ordinance that prohibits the removal of trees at least five inches in diameter within the city limits without first obtaining a city permit.
St. Johns County -- Ring Power Corp. has unveiled plans to acquire as many as 775 acres next to the World Golf Village for a new headquarters and a plant complex and to develop an office and industrial park. Ring expects to relocate 400 employees from its current location on Jacksonville's south side. The deal is to be finalized at mid-year. WGV's Town Square Shopping Center, which includes a Publix supermarket and acres of additional undeveloped commercial space, is for sale for $6.25 million.
Credit for landing ConAgra's new 320,000-sq.-ft. warehouse project -- the county's biggest ever -- goes to a full-court press by Florida East Coast Industries' railroad division, the County Commission and the chamber of commerce. After the chamber learned of ConAgra's search for a site, the railroad offered to spend $500,000 to repair an old line to the warehouse, and the county offered $100,000 in tax incentives over five years, plus an expedited permitting process. In return, the giant food distributor must maintain at least 42 jobs that pay at least $21,500. ConAgra expects to hire at least 55.
New Tee Team
World Hall of Fame and Golf Village has its third leadership team in four years. Jack Peter, formerly Hall of Fame general manager, is now vice president and chief operating officer. Vernon Kelly, who helped develop the complex, will coordinate activities of the village's principal partners.
The Peter-Kelly duo follows Bruce Lucker, who in mid-December was reassigned by PGA Tour Executive Vice President Charlie Zink to help strengthen the PGA Senior Tour.