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BIG BEND: Rounding out the Economy

Rounding Out the Economy

Regional Trends

MANUFACTURING GROWTH: Tallahassee is getting serious about diversifying its economy. Throughout the Big Bend, developer interest is increasing. "We have an honest-to-goodness manufacturing base emerging here,'' says Bill Law, chairman of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County. "It will help to round out our government and university economy.'' Last year's landing of innovative Canadian compressor-manufacturer Danfoss Turbocor set the stage for other supplier companies to move in, such as components manufacturer Global CNC Solutions. The move helped stoke an anticipated 10% manufacturing jobs gain for 2007.

GOALS: The Leon County Commission selected economic development as its top priority this year, following up with $725,000 for Vision 2020, which will give the market its first locally focused venture fund for nurturing entrepreneurialism. "We believe we can leverage that to $10 million in actual investment,'' says Vision 2020 Chairman Rick Kearney, CEO of Mainline Information Systems, the leading IBM reseller.

InnovatorS (Tallahassee)
Sergio Pinon and Matt Ryncarz
? August 2005 startup eLayaway, founded by Sergio Pinon (left) and Matt Ryncarz, was the 2006 winner of the ITFlorida Small Business of the Year award; eLayaway markets a patent-pending online system allowing periodic customer payments, with the merchandise shipped when it's paid in full. A recent contract with StoresOnline adds thousands to eLayaway's merchant network.

Photo: Ray Stanyard

NEW: Taylor County looks to begin a giant leap into tourism, diversifying from a manufacturing focus, with the $700-million waterfront Magnolia Bay development planned, possibly to receive permitting this year. ... Among new-to-market businesses: A Spanish-language online retailer in Hamilton County and Target Corp.'s first food distribution center, coming to Columbia County.

CHALLENGES: A landmark agreement between Leon and Wakulla counties is expected to help cleanse Wakulla's groundwater, but some road-widening needs in Gilchrist County remain unattended. ... The search for higher-paying jobs continues, especially in counties such as Hamilton and Lafayette, where 2007 per capita income is below or close to 50% of
the state average.

Tallahassee / Leon County

HIGHER ED: Tallahassee's university base and the mounting push to foster new businesses will make this a good year, predicts Bill Law, president of Tallahassee Community College and chairman of the county's Economic Development Council. "The intellectual capital of our three academic institutions is amazing,'' says Kay Stephenson, CEO of Datamaxx Group. "And yes, the area is beginning to realize they can take advantage of that.''

NEW DEVELOPMENTS: Charles Benedict, president of Benedict Engineering, expects 20% sales growth this year -- 100% in 2008 -- as the company brings to market two new developments: A self-guided, laser-technology system capable of moving supplies vertically and horizontally into storage units and an ocean-going cargo moving system adapted to stack cars and save space in parking garages. ... "Another emerging story is our sleepy little airport,'' says Law, referring to Flightline Group's $14-million expansion plan, which will add 110 jobs, and DayJet's scheduled landing about midyear. "We're getting interest from companies wanting to use our clear skies commodity.''

? Manufacturing Shift
Government employment in Tallahassee accounts for 35.6% of all jobs, compared to the 12% state average. Business leaders are eyeing additional manufacturing jobs to diversify the economic base. Here's how Tallahassee's manufacturing sector compares with other Panhandle metro areas and statewide, as of December:
Metro area Manufacturing jobs % of total jobs
Fort Walton Beach 4,800 5.2%
Panama City 3,300 4.4%
Pensacola 7,600 4.3%
Tallahassee 4,200 2.3%
Florida 397,800 4.8%
Sources: Labor Market Information, Agency for Workforce Innovation; Woods & Poole

? Since its 1981 startup, Benedict Engineering has garnered 85 patents, with 12 more pending. It works in three divisions: Forensic and consulting engineering; development of cargo-moving systems; and NuShore, a spinoff working in new-method beach restoration.

? Flightline Group's three-year expansion at its Compass Pointe headquarters at Tallahassee Regional Airport will include a training center for pilots and support personnel of very light jets, plus VLJ sales, a service center and hotel. On its radar: An international pilot training program.

? Florida State University Center of Excellence in Advanced Materials, started with a $4-million state grant, ties in with FSU's plans for a $17-million building at Innovation Park to focus on materials science research.

Hamilton / Suwannee / Madison Counties

ADDING WORKERS: Maronda Homes of Tampa, in partnership with Hamilton County, will start first-phase construction in early summer on a regional manufacturing facility at Genoa Industrial Park, where the company will make building components. At full capacity, the plant will provide 100 jobs. ... At Live Oak in Suwannee, 100 additional workers were hired following a $70-million expansion at the Gold Kist chicken-processing plant -- subsequently acquired by Pilgrim's Pride. The expansion doubled plant capacity and incorporated innovative robotics for checking product inventory.

NEW: Madison County has teamed with The Original Florida regional tourism group to promote the area to travel writers. ... The town of Lee has created and filled a business incubator converted from a former elementary school.

InnovatorS (Tallahassee)
Jonathan Waters and Kay Stephenson
? Datamaxx Group develops software applications for law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, serving 70% of that market, including the FBI and 13 other federal agencies. Datamaxx, which introduced technology enabling agencies to exchange mug shots and fingerprints via personal computer, is working with FSU on a facial recognition development. CEO Kay Stephenson and Jonathan Waters, vice president of research and development, founded the company in 1991.

Photo: Ray Stanyard

Business to Watch

? Claramente Christiano, a Spanish-language Christian bookstore, sells online and mail-order requests from an office and warehouse in Jasper. Owner G. Gordon Lewis relocated from south Florida.

Lafayette / Taylor Counties

MAJOR PROJECTS: Tampa businessman Bill Thom is relocating Marine Diving Equipment, a manufacturer and wholesaler of scuba-diving equipment, to Lafayette County's industrial park at Mayo, expecting to complete the move by late spring. ... Permitting for Magnolia Bay, a marina and resort planned on 3,780 acres owned by retired St. Petersburg surgeon J. Crayton Pruitt along one of Florida's longest stretches of pristine coastline, could happen this year -- barring successful opposition from conservation groups. ... At Perry, construction is expected to begin on Cypress Mill, a 258-acre downtown redevelopment project created by local investors.

Project to Watch

? Construction on Taylor Energy Center, a $2-billion coal-fueled electric power plant planned for 3,000 acres near Perry by four Florida utilities, is expected to start next year.

Jefferson / Gadsden / Wakulla Counties

TRENDS: A recently approved 2% tax on overnight accommodations will be used to help promote tourism in Jefferson County, says Julie Conley, executive director of the county's Economic Development Council. ... Monticello has annexed 300 acres over the past year, responding to requests by developers building mostly high-end housing in city's fringe areas, says Conley, who's also Monticello's mayor.

ENVIRONMENT: Wakulla County and Tallahassee officials have signed an agreement to enhance the protection of Wakulla Springs through improved treatment at Tallahassee's Thomas P. Smith and Lake Bradford Road wastewater facilities and to upgrade quality and availability of reuse water at a cost of $160 million.

Columbia / Gilchrist Counties

NEWCOMER: Target Corp.'s first company-owned perishable food distribution center opens at Lake City in the summer of 2008. "It's our largest dollar project ever,'' says Jim Poole, executive director of the Columbia Industrial Development Authority. The $90-million center will provide 140 jobs.

CHALLENGE: In Gilchrist County, "the greatest detriment to growth is State Road 26 -- not even on the horizon to be four-laned,'' says county administrator Ron McQueen. Among roadblocks: The town of Newberry hasn't been able to issue new subdivision permits, and Trenton has been denied zoning requests.