October 25, 2014

Around the State

| 12/1/1998
JACKSONVILLE - Since World War II, the Naval Aviation Depot has been getting fighter planes back into combat shape, and it has a top-gun reputation: The depot's work record helped save it in 1993 when the Navy picked three of six aircraft rework facilities to close. But now the depot, Jacksonville's largest industrial employer, is fighting battles on the fiscal and work-force fronts. The depot must cut its 2000 budget by $5 million and the 2001 budget by $25 million. Capt. Martin Kosiek, depot commander, says increased efficiency will absorb some of the cuts. He's trying to ease out some workers with early retirement incentives, and the Navy will eliminate 124 short-term workers over the next year. The facility's employment, at 4,300 in the mid 1990s, is about 3,962. All but 30 are civilians, highly skilled, with salaries averaging about $45,000. The depot's 1998 payroll was $178 million out of a $487 million budget.

Kosiek believes the depot is secure for the long run because the Navy needs the depot's capacity in case of military actions. Kosiek is less confident, however, when it comes to finding enough skilled workers in the future to labor on the sophisticated innards of military aircraft such as F-14 fighter planes that need $3 million in rework every five years. For now, there's a strong talent pool of workers laid off from other Navy depots and military facilities; the Jacksonville depot is even required to hire from that group when it has an opening. But that talented labor pool is aging: The average Jacksonville depot employee is 47. And when many retire as expected in eight years, there may not be enough younger skilled craftsmen to fill the ranks.

Florida Community College at Jacksonville starts classes for sheet metal workers next month, and plans to add technical training in other areas. Some would like to see an aviation academy created at Cecil Field. The former military base could feed skilled employees to airlines, the Navy depot and a new Northrop Grumman aviation rework facility nearby. That would require an as-yet undetermined amount of seed money from the state, however, meaning the depot's next battle could be in the political arena. - Jane Tanner

HAMILTON COUNTY - Long-time employer Jasper Textiles, maker of women's and children's clothes, shut its factory and moved its operations to Latin America. A few years ago, the plant employed up to 250 workers, but recently had downsized to 50.

Modular Offices of Florida opened a manufacturing plant this fall and expects to grow from 10 employees to as many as 80 in the next few years if the economy stays strong.

JACKSONVILLE - Unemployment in the metro area that includes Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties dropped to a record low of 2.9% this fall.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida plans a $95 million cash purchase of Principal Health Care of Florida, pending regulatory approval expected this month. Principal's 138,000 statewide HMO members will be integrated with Blue Cross' 750,000 next spring.

An environmental clean-up and construction division of McKenzie Service Co. plans to lease three buildings this winter at Cecil Field, making it the third private firm to set up shop at the military base as the Navy completes its exodus from the facility.

Liz Claiborne Shoes, owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, moved its 30-employee distribution center from New Jersey to the Westside.

Boca Raton-based ADT Security Services is opening a 400-employee Jacksonville center to monitor security calls. Officials say annual pay will be higher ($18,000 to $22,000) than typical for call centers. The company is also expanding an existing marketing center and may add 400 employees in the next few years.

Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. continues to divest real estate holdings and has requested bids on its 30-story downtown tower. In the past few years, BellSouth has sold office buildings in Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham and Charlotte. The company would lease space in the Jacksonville building.

LAKE BUTLER - The city's 1908 courthouse, listed on National Register of Historic Places, is undergoing a $243,000 state grant-funded renovation. It will house commercial offices for lease and a regional museum.

OCALA - Intellon Corp., a semiconductor manufacturer, recently signed a licensing agreement with Microsoft Corp. for the use of Intellon's new technology that allows high-speed Internet access everywhere in the house using existing electrical outlets. Financial terms were not disclosed.

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH - Conservationists failed to raise the money to purchase a 111-acre pristine beachfront parcel known as the Fleeman Tract. Jacksonville-based McGarvey Residential Communities will buy the land for about $10 million and plans to create an upscale gated community.

STARKE - Apparel maker Starke Uniform closed shop, putting 180 people out of work. It is the second apparel company in Bradford County to close in the last few years; another in Lake Butler also opted for cheaper operations overseas.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Northeast, Business Florida

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