Jacksonville's economic recruiters are making progress with overseas companies.
By Chuck Day
As British Airways prepared to open its 500-person inbound customer-service center at Jacksonville's Southpoint complex a few weeks back, Belgian-based Alpro NV was negotiating a deal that will put a $35-million, soy-based beverage plant on the city's west side. It's no simple coincidence that two European companies are setting up operations here within 12 months of each other. Cornerstone, the economic development arm of Jacksonville's chamber of commerce, is realizing some success at going global with its marketing pitch.
Overseas-based firms account for 13% -- the second-largest group behind prospects from the Southeast U.S. -- of the 85 companies considering major projects in northeast Florida, according to the chamber's executive vice president, Jerry Mallot. That's double the number of overseas companies from just 18 months ago. Countries represented by these prospects include China, India, Cuba, Monaco, Pakistan, South Africa and Switzerland.
"What appeals to U.S. companies appeals to foreign-based firms, too," Mallot says. "Five years ago, Jacksonville wasn't known in Europe. Now it is, and every place else around the world" -- thanks in part to the six Cornerstone staffers who work exclusively on wooing international firms, following up on leads, hosting visits and advertising the area.
Mallot is particularly happy with the Alpro deal. When production of the company's soy-based health drink, Belsoy, begins in next year's first quarter, the plant will employ 60, with plans to ramp up to 100. What pleases Mallot most, though, are the plant's anticipated wages -- ranging from about $32,000 to the low $40,000s. Jacksonville's current average wage is just under $30,000.
Cornerstone has targeted six industries -- aviation and aerospace; information technology; medical products; biotechnology and pharmaceuticals; micro-electronics and semiconductors; and auto parts and assembly -- and wants these sectors to account for 70% of business expansion. It wants high-wage jobs to account for 65% of job growth. Last year, 65% of Jacksonville's business growth came from the targeted industries, while high-wage jobs accounted for 61% of employment growth.
Mallot is confident about hitting his targets. "Our growth remains in synch with our infrastructure," he says. His trump card, he says: Quality of life. "That's what drives a city's economy today. People can pick where they want to work."
In the News
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Jacksonville -- An accidental discovery sparked ParkerVision's (Nasdaq-PRKR) new technology development partnership with Texas Instruments. ParkerVision's new "Direct2Data" technology, which uses a single computer chip to simplify how wireless devices receive radio signals, could be used to create smaller but more powerful wireless wizardry. Texas Instruments will produce the new chip. The Jacksonville company happened on its latest creation while working on its other principal business: Remote video camera control systems used by television broadcasters.
CSX Transportation relocated more than 150 jobs from its National Customer
Service Center in Pittsburgh. The move is part of the railroad's plan to centralize customer service operations, which already employ 750.
Peninsula State Legal Services has a new name and ambitious expansion plans. Rechristened U.S. Legal Services, the Jacksonville firm expects to be operating in all 50 states by the end of the year. The company contracts with general practice attorneys across the nation, including 200 in Florida. Those attorneys, in turn, do the legal work for employees at its client businesses. U.S. Legal Services billed $5 million in 2000, up 40% over 1999.
A second business phone directory is coming to Jacksonville. The Smart Pages, a Minnesota firm, is set to do battle with BellSouth's The Real Yellow Pages. The directory, containing 28,000 businesses in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, will include web addresses.
Developer Guy Fisher is planning a $20-million, 85-acre commercial park in northwest Jacksonville, near the airport.
Nassau County -- A county task force is reviewing 50 square miles around State Road A1A in an effort to create the First Coast's next development of regional impact. Jacksonville-based Rayonier owns 5,900 acres in the area. The study will take about one year.
Ocala -- Kmart has bought the land under its 1.5 million-sq.-ft. distribution center for $31 million. Employing about 650, the center is one of the county's top employers.
On the final day of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. auction in mid-March, agents Dean De Renzo and Randy Hartley sold a colt for a record $1.05 million. They purchased the horse last fall for $50,000.
Palatka -- City planning officials are looking at revising the city's zoning code, a move that a citizens group says will make downtown friendlier to business. The revisions would spur the opening of outdoor cafes, boutiques and specialty shops "and induce people to come back downtown," says Gene Caputo, chairman of the Economic Downtown Restructuring Committee.
Palm Coast -- Palm Coast Data, a magazine subscription service, is planning a $1-million, 30,000-sq.-ft. expansion. The firm handles subscription services for 50 publishers and about 200 publications, including such titles as Rolling Stone, Maxim and Smithsonian. Its parent company, DIMAC Marketing Co. of St. Louis, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early this year. Palm Coast Data employs about 700 and is looking to expand its staff by 30% within the next two years.
St. Augustine -- Tree of Life is sprouting new roots at World Golf Village. The St. Augustine maker and distributor of health food products will become the anchor tenant in a three-building, 180,000-sq.-ft. complex being developed by a unit of St. Joe Co. Construction was to begin in April. Tree of Life employs more than 6,000. Its sales exceed $1.7 billion.