Should government stay involved in recruiting overseas businesses?
By Chuck Day
A consultant's study has recommended that Jacksonville hand over its international business-building activity to the chamber of commerce. But the proposal is drawing fire from critics who say that any international effort that doesn't directly involve government officials won't be effective.
The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, the city agency whose duties presently include overseas economic recruitment, commissioned a study last year from an Atlanta consulting firm. The study -- called the Strategy & First Year Action Plan -- included the recommendation that the JEDC give up its overseas activity. The chamber already has an international business unit, and the study implies that consolidating the two programs would avoid duplication of effort.
The JEDC accepted the proposal as part of the study without endorsing it. A task force is now examining the issue, and Mayor John Delaney and the City Council will have to approve any change.
Jacksonville's business and political communities have had some bumpy going recently over other business-governance issues, including separating the city's port management from its aviation authority. And the consultant's proposal has attracted few overt champions. "There have been ongoing discussions about doing international activities in a more consolidated fashion. The proposal to transfer them to the chamber is just a continuation of those discussions," says JEDC Executive Director Michael Weinstein, who leaves this month to lead the city's Super Bowl Host Committee.
Jerry Mallot, executive vice president of Cornerstone, the chamber's business development unit, is likewise cautious: "At first glance, I see some opportunities, but there's lots more study ahead. At this point, I'm not in a position to take a position."
The proposal's foes, though, are quite vocal in their opposition. "This is an outrageously bad idea," insists Eric Smith, director of the Center for Strategic Governance and International Initiatives at Florida Coastal School of Law. A two-time City Council president, Smith helped enact the legislation that brought the international unit at the JEDC to life.
"My biggest concern is that it sends a message that international is less than priority No. 1," says Frank Pearce, president of Pearce & Associates, an executive search firm. "You need high-level government leadership to attract foreign business."
Francis "Len" Loving, chairman of the JEDC's international unit, says direct ties to city government "do make an impact with foreign officials." Whether that makes an impact with the JEDC remains to be seen.
In the News
GAINESVILLE -- A jury ruled that Anheuser-Busch must pay the family of late New York Yankees great Roger Maris $50 million for improperly taking away a beer distributorship ["Beer Bully," February 2001]. The decision in Alachua County Circuit Court ended a three-month trial.
JACKSONVILLE -- Mayor John Delaney still has two years left on his term, but names for a successor already are being bandied about, including several with business ties: Michael Weinstein, who this month takes over the Super Bowl Host Committee; Gate Petroleum Corp. Vice President John Peyton; and Ginger Soud, former city council president who built a career in real estate. Duval County Sheriff Nat Glover and City Attorney Rick Mullaney are also said to be mulling a run for the mayor's office.
Craig/is Ltd., which provides outsourcing and professional services to property and casualty insurance firms, is moving to downtown Jacksonville from Long Island, N.Y. The move is expected to create 200 jobs -- with an average salary of $55,000 -- in the next three years.
Los Angeles-based KB Home, a $3.9-billion residential homebuilder, has entered the Florida market with its purchase of Trademark Homes, Jacksonville's No. 2 builder. Details of the deal were not disclosed. KB picks up 4,000 homes with a median price of $168,300 in 20 communities in five northeast Florida counties.
Air Canada has begun daily direct service between Jacksonville and Toronto. The Stellar Group has been tapped to build a 185,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Mexico for the Casa Ley supermarket chain.
NewSouth Communications is adding to its Jacksonville staff of 22. The Greenville, S.C.-based company, which provides local and long-distance phone service and high-speed internet service, plans to hire as many as 20 sales representatives in Jacksonville.
General contractor WG Mills is beefing up its Jacksonville operations. The Sarasota-based company recently bought a 42,000-sq.-ft. building at Southpoint.
Fort Lauderdale-based Precision Response Corp. plans to close its Jacksonville call center and has laid
off 400 employees. PRC, which employs 12,000 worldwide, handles outsourced customer care for 55 companies.
Baptist Health plans to buy 32 acres at Gran Park at Jacksonville from Flagler Development. The hospital system will build a 125-bed hospital on the south Duval County property in 2002.
Convergys Corp., a provider of outsourced billing and customer-care services, plans to add more than 80 Jacksonville jobs as a result of an eight-year, $40-million contract it landed with Sodexho, a food services company based in Gaithersburg, Md.
JACKSONVILLE BEACH -- E-MedSoft.com (AMEX-MED) has completed its merger with Chartwell Diversified Services Inc. and is moving its headquarters to Lowell, Mass. E-MedSoft, which delivers healthcare information services via the internet, says it hopes to keep all 40 local employees on staff in Jacksonville Beach.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Beach Club plans to begin a $20-million expansion next April. The 508-room facility will add a 17,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and a 25,000-sq.-ft. spa, says George Fetherston, vice president and general manager.
JACKSONVILLE -- Apparently tired of companies requesting financial incentives for expanding or relocating to the area, City Council President Matt Carlucci is creating a special committee that will examine the city's incentives policy and decide if incentives are even necessary.
The scrutiny was ignited by Ocwen Financial's midsummer request for $2.5 million in incentives -- which the council later approved -- to build a 1,100-space garage at the Ocwen-owned downtown Prudential Building to keep Aetna Life Insurance from moving its 2,900 employees.
JACKSONVILLE -- An Atlanta consultant's study of the Prime Osborn Center concludes that building a facility with 150,000 square feet of exhibition space along with a new hotel in a new downtown location would cost $174 million and have an economic impact of $2.4 billion over the next 30 years.
The Strategic Advisory Group also projects that expanding the Osborn Center would cost $60 million and generate $1.3 billion. Mayor John Delaney and other City Council members oppose building a new convention center.