Diversification could be the key to Florida's continued prosperity
Small factories and export growth could play a larger role in Florida's economy, says Magee, 58, a board member of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance. "Manufacturing is year-round work," he says.
His Hi-Tec Laboratories at Freeport increased sales 22% last year, led by flagship product Floweasy, a drain opener. This year, he's doubling space with an additional 31,000 square feet, introducing a new plumbing product, cranking up a tool-and-die shop and expecting to add 25 employees to his current 65.
"To me, the good part of manufacturing is it's more than the finished product. I have to buy the ingredients, which have to be refined somewhere and trucked over to us. Amazing how many people's lives depend on that manufacturing facility."
He's diversified to cope with recent supplier shortfalls. "When our plastic bottles supplier couldn't keep up, we bought an Alabama company and brought it here — that's Gulfstream Plastics." He also owns Culex, which makes a mosquito control kit he developed, Airship Printing in Denver and distribution centers in Birmingham and Toronto. One advantage gained by choosing a rural location for his 1992 startup: "Truckers have a need here for shipping goods out; we get all kinds of discounts."
Magee, who was 6 when his father died, began working as a preteen, then partnered with his mother for ventures when he was too young to get a license. He recalls one early business encounter: As a high school senior in Texas in the late '60s, booking bands on 10% commission for area military-base and high school events, he was summoned by IRS examiners assuming he'd meant to report $2,500 in earnings, not $25,000. Magee presented his records. A supervisor, looking on, asked Magee which high school he attended, then began to chuckle, explaining, "You made more money last year than your high school principal."