Photo: iStockSix high-rise office buildings have changed hands in downtown Jacksonville in the past year. "We are seeing real traction growing in our downtown," says JAXUSA President Jerry Mallott.
2015 Economic Yearbook - Northeast
‘Real traction' for the economy in Northeast Florida
Redevelopment: Momentum is building in downtown Jacksonville as plans move forward for developing the long-vacant Jacksonville Electric Authority plant site and the old shipyards property, along with the Brooklyn neighborhood, where new stores, restaurants and hundreds of apartments and condominiums are going up.
Downtown: Downtown is becoming the place to be, with six high-rise office buildings purchased in the past year. "Thing are doing quite well across all segments of business, and I think 2015 is going to be a strong year," says Jerry Mallott, president of JAXUSA, the economic development arm of the JAX Chamber. "We are seeing real traction growing in our downtown." New industries are blooming outside of downtown as well. GE Oil & Gas is building a plant at Cecil Commerce Center. The residential sector is also on the uptick with 6,076 single-family building permits issued in 2014, the most since 2007.
Tourism: Several multiday concerts, along with the Jacksonville Jag-uars, have created a tourism boom in Jacksonville. Occupancy at area hotels was more than 60% for 12 consecutive months. Officials believe the inaugural season of the Armada, a professional soccer club, will boost those figures this year.
Person to Watch
Mark Frisch: The businessman didn't play soccer while growing up and didn't follow the sport, aside from watching an occasional match on TV. Now, he is the owner/founder and CEO of the Sunshine Soccer Club of the North American Soccer league and owner of the Armada Football Club, which began play this spring in the modified Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Frisch's interest in soccer began when he was invited to be on the field before the U.S. Men's National Team vs. Scotland match in 2012 at Ever- Bank Field in Jacksonville. He was amazed at the area's passion for soccer and looked into starting a team. The Amanda is part of a league of 11 teams, including the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, that aims to expand to 18 teams by 2018.
Frisch is also executive vice president of family-owned Beaver Street Fisheries, which sells its products under the name Sea Best, HF's Outstanding and Grillman's. The 65-year-old Jacksonville-based company produces some 1,600 products for dozens of customers. Frisch runs the company with brothers Adam and Steven. Between 2012 and 2013, revenue grew from $486 million to $535 million. The company says it is debt free.
Businesses to Watch
Fanatics: What started as a small store in 1995 to sell Jacksonville Jaguars merchandise has grown into an online giant. Fanatics and FansEdge brands and sports collectibles and memorabilia are sold online through Fanatics Authentic and SportsMemorabilia.com. The company also powers the e-commerce sites of the NFL, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA and 150 collegiate and professional teams. New CEO Doug Mack, former CEO of One King, brought in tech-savvy executives from Amazon, Williams-Sonoma and Orbitz to fuel the online explosion. The private company had revenue of $1 billion in 2013 and now employs about 1,800.
GE Oil & Gas: The company plans to set up a manufacturing plant at Cecil Commerce Center and hire 500 employees with an average salary of $48,250. GE is leasing a 510,000-sq.-ft. facility scheduled for completion in October. The plant will make Becker control valve products for the oil and gas industry. The company is making a $50-million investment and will eventually have a $24-million-a-year payroll. The city and state have approved $15.4 million in incentives.
Greencore Group: The Ireland-based company supplies a wide array of convenience foods to the American market. It has opened its southern hub in Jacksonville for customers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. In 2014, it delivered 108,000 items a week to 1,300 stores. It employs 259 — 160 of them were added in the last year.
St. Augustine/ St. Johns County
Influx of Business: Celebrating the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine's founding, the nation's oldest city has switched into high gear. New businesses and industries are booming, and tourism officials are expecting to eclipse the record increases of 2013 and 2014. Bed-tax revenue is growing along with hotel occupancy rates, and spending by visitors should expand by 5.6% this year, says Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau. Among the new businesses are Defenshield, which produces ballistic shields to protect security personnel. It moved its headquarters and 15 to 20 workers from Syracuse, N.Y., to St. Augustine. Its customers include the U.S. military, law enforcement and municipalities. A manufacturer of fences, gates and other aluminum projects, iDeal Aluminum Products moved its company and 90 workers from DeLand to St. Johns County. The company plans to add 30 jobs.
Person to Watch
Mat Roy: After two decades running Living Color Aquariums in Fort Lauderdale, Roy has pulled up stakes to become CEO of Marine Conservation Partners in St. Augustine. Roy is an expert in aquarium consultation, engineering, design, fabrication and installation. Marine Conservation Partners, which designs, builds and operates public and private aquariums, has about 30 employees. With Roy at the helm, Living Color built an aquarium behind home plate at Marlins Park in Miami and renovated a 15-year-old aquarium at Rainforest Café while keeping the restaurant open.
Business to Watch
NTE Energy: Based in St. Augustine, NTE develops and acquires electric generation and transmission facilities throughout North America. It is actively developing projects in West Texas, Southwest Ohio and North Carolina and is pursuing projects in several other locations. The company handles all aspects of project development, including site evaluations, permitting, financing, construction and operation. Seth Shortlidge, a former chief executive of Tamarack Energy, founded NTE Energy and serves as the company's president and CEO. An affiliate company, NTE Solutions, has an agreement with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems to use that company's combustion-based generating technologies.
County Population: 216,859, up 13.4% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 4.4%
Per capita income: $60,001
Orange Park/ Clay County
Seeking a Game-Changer: Although Clay County will probably never shake its image as a bedroom community of Jacksonville, Bill Garrison, president of the Clay County Development Corp., is convinced the First Coast Expressway, a $1.8-billion toll road that will connect I-10 west of Jacksonville and I-95 north of St. Augustine, will be a game-changer. "That one project will radically impact Clay County's growth and future of job creation," he says. Two new companies opened in 2014, both in Green Cove Springs. In a deal with Dell, U2 Cloud is growing its cloud computer business with 72 new employees. The company, established in 2010, allows businesses instant access to their data and software through a virtual desktop. Building Component Supply is a spinoff of a roof and floor truss manufacturer in Jacksonville. It has invested $1.8 million in manufacturing equipment.
County Population: 211,796, up 10.6% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Per capita income: $37,700
Regional Center: Tucked in Florida's northeast corner on the Georgia line, Nassau County is awaiting construction of the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), a 24,000-acre masterplanned regional center, residential community and transportation hub. The first phase of the 2,900-acre development contains an elementary school for 600 to 800 students and a 120-acre industrial park with rail service. Also opening is a 1,814-acre certified industrial park mega-site, Crawford Diamond, in southwest Nassau County, which includes an inland port, logistics center and manufacturing hub. It has already been approved for 10.5 million square feet of industrial use. The two developments are "within an eight-hour drive of 45 million people" and will "change the entire landscape," says Karen Schexnayder, director of marketing for Nassau County Economic Development Board. She says the next job is to persuade companies to move into the area. Tourism is also a growing industry in the county: With the Ritz-Carlton and the Omni, the number of visitors to Amelia Island/ Fernandina Beach has grown 12.4% in the last year to 566,600 people.
Enabling Development: Georgia-Pacific plans to spend nearly $90 million on two projects at its paper mill in Palatka. Executives says $70 million will go to modernizing equipment, making the mill more energy efficient and reducing water usage by 30%. The other project involves $19 million for upgrades to the mill's kraft paper machines. The Palatka mill employs 900. Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light spent $70 million in Putnam County for a 49-acre substation that will enable more development, says Alex McCoy, vice president of economic development for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. "We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," he says.
County Population: 77,056, up 3.7% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 7.1%
Per capita income: $31,366
More Interest: Baker has plenty of land for growth and industrial development but few takers, says Darryl Register, executive director of the Baker County Economic Development Commission. Register says interest has picked up in the last six months, but the county has received no firm offers. Part of the problem could be that Baker is too close to Jacksonville, with Cecil Field Commerce Center sucking up many good prospects and 52% of the county's population commuting to work in Jacksonville, he says. But many residents are attracted to the quiet lifestyle. "We don't want to grow so fast that it becomes a monster," Register says, mentioning the explosive growth of nearby Clay County over the years.
County Population: 29,004, up 7.0% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 4.7%
Per capita income: $28,468
County Ripe for Development: Plum Creek Timber and the Rockefeller Group are developing 2,622 acres for manufacturing and distribution facilities, as well as an inland port and office buildings, says Glenn Hunter, the county's economic development director. County officials say the area is ripe for development with its access to I-10 and I-75 and two railroads. Hangars are being refurbished for TIMCO Aviation Services at Lake City Gateway Airport, which will create 65 to 100 jobs. TIMCO, which acquired Aero Corp., modifies and repairs large aircraft such as the boeing 727 and 736 airliners and the military C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion aircraft for military and civilian customers. "We are getting a lot more calls looking for sites. We are all feeling that wind in the sails," Hunter says.