by Jeff Zbar
Updated 5 yearss ago
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Andrea DiGiuseppe had long made frequent trips to Miami for business, but his quick, tightly focused itineraries kept him from seeing all that the city and county had to offer.
"It was always come in and get out," he says.
When DiGiuseppe, president and CEO of Trend Group SpA, an upscale Italian glass and stone company with a single sales rep in Miami, decided to relocate the company's operations to the U.S., he considered several major cities. He had visited New York, and later Los Angeles, where a sister operation-- Rock Solid Granite-- is based.
Then, an extended business trip to Miami one autumn several years ago introduced DiGiuseppe to what the city really had to offer. Miami's port capacity and proximity to Europe would shave 30% off shipping costs and one week off contain ers otherwise bound for Los Angeles through the Panama Canal. The city's location as the "Gateway to the Americas" would open the Caribbean and Latin American markets to the company.
And South Beach's nightlife, Lincoln Road's Italian bistros and Ocean Drive's activity really hooked the native Italian.
"We Italians are connected by food, and this reminded me of Italy. I just grew attached to it," he says. By 2005, Trend USA had opened its new 55,000-square-foot offices and showroom in Miami with 60 new full-time employees. The company has invested $15 million in Miami, and another $25 million in a manufacturing plant at Sebring in Florida's Heartland region.
|Facts & Figures|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau; Demographics USA 2005, TradeDimensions International Inc.; Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. EBI = effective buying/disposable income
"I can meet people from all over the world here," DiGiuseppe says. "You have a new breed of entrepreneur who comes here because it's a city that's in constant change."
New job creation, corporate relocations, housing growth--all amid a desirable climate and attractive quality of life--combine to make Southeast Florida home to a vigorous economy. The "tri-county" hub of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties is now seeing its "Treasure Coast" neighbors to the north--Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties--as well as southernmost Monroe County, gain a sizeable share of residential and business activity, too.
Miami-Dade County's role as self-described "Business Center of the Americas" attracts employers worldwide. Some 1,350 multinational corporations are based in and around Miami, tapping a labor pool of approximately 1.1 million people. Kraft Foods and American International Group (AIG) relocated their Latin American operations here in 2005, and Burger King has decided to keep Miami its home.
Miami-Dade's gross county product tops $80 billion, with trade, bioscience, technology and tourism driving the engine. In 2004, the county saw 10.9 million overnight stays--accounting for a $12.9 billion infusion into the local economy. Local cruise industry behemoths make Southeast Florida their ports--and corporate offices--of call. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. debuted its Freedom of the Seas megaliner here in June 2006, and rival Carnival Cruise Lines, whose owner Micky Arison also owns the NBA championship Miami Heat, has several such "uber" liners of its own on order.
While tourism remains strong, the county's transition to the bioscience, medical and technology sectors offers a strong category for the county's continuing economic development. The University of Miami is spearheading a $1 billion effort over the next decade to create a "health district" of medical treatment and research facilities in downtown Miami. In addition, the Beacon Council has partnered with Enterprise Florida and the Broward Alliance on joint marketing initiatives and attendance at Bio 2006, the annual convention of bio and technology industry leaders and startups. Beacon Council representatives met with attendees, and have scouted several prospective relocations. The Council and the Alliance also refer companies across the county line they share in common to find the most suitable space.
"We've made a concerted effort to diversify the economy," says Beacon Council President and CEO Frank R. Nero, noting that Miami-Dade is today home to companies in aviation, bioscience, financial services, international investment and telecommunications. "That's been the resiliency in the economy here."
Expanding a university base
With 700 jobs retained and 660 new jobs created, Kaplan University joins collection and investigation services provider Powell, Rogers and Speaks (35 new jobs) and accelerated higher educator Ana G. Mendez University System (23 new jobs) as examples of the success stories coming out of Broward County.
In 2005, Aetna opened a $32 million, 112,000-square-foot prescription mailorder facility in Pompano Beach. The county and its Workforce One recruiting and training arm are staffing most of the 800 jobs that resulted.
Perhaps no new employer has a higher profile here than IKEA North America, the Swedish furniture maker. The Pennsylvania- based company's next Florida location is slated to open in the bustling Sunrise area by summer 2007, and the 350 new jobs it brings won't be standard retail shifts. These jobs will offer competitive wages and full-time benefits for anyone working 20 or more hours a week at the company identi- fied by Fortune and Working Mother magazines as one of the nation's top 100 employers. Each location is home to a full-service regional headquarters, with human resources, accounting, IT, an interior design team, graphics, public relations and a staff cafeteria. Traditionally, up to 90% of employees are new hires, but Sunrise might be the exception to that rule.
"A lot of folks from Sweden want to move to Florida," says Joseph Roth, an executive with the company's site selection group. With Port Everglades and the growing Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at the I-595 terminus, IKEA is just one of many companies selecting Broward, says James "JT" Tarlton, president and CEO of the Broward Alliance Inc.
Local economic development of- ficials participate in trade missions throughout the U.S. as well as to Latin America, Europe and Malaysia. For a company looking to relocate, these missions highlight Broward's emerging global presence.
The county's educational assets also include Florida Atlantic University and Nova Southeastern University, both of which have burgeoning campuses in Broward that serve the region's growing population.
Bioscience takes hold
Florida's rapidly growing biotech industry, along with economic development officials in Palm Beach County, was all smiles in February 2006 when Scripps Research Institute, the number one recipient of research grants from the National Institutes of Health, officially made Florida Atlantic University's Jupiter campus its East Coast home. But perhaps no one was smiling more than Dr. Rina Dukor, president and CEO of BioTools Inc. In 2005, the Chicagobased manufacturer of pharmaceutical instruments selected western Palm Beach County for one reason.
"In a word: Scripps," she says. Now that it's a done deal, Dukor can look con- fidently to the future, anticipating the blossoming of the region's life-sciences sector amid an industrial and academic environment. Even as a 10-person company, BioTools will get noticed, she says.
Dukor is working with the local Workforce Alliance initiative to staff up. Enterprise Florida and county officials have introduced her to the right people, resolved zoning issues and helped her carve a niche in the local market.
While landing Scripps has put the spotlight on Florida Atlantic University, it is only one of many schools in this region servicing the biotechnology sector. Palm Beach Community College is building an 81,000-square-foot bioscience training facility in Palm Beach Gardens, and the Palm Beach County Public Schools has a bioscience magnet program under development. FAU, the University of Miami and Boca Raton Community Hospital are collaborating on a regional academic medical center and teaching hospital.
New clusters in other key sectors are also emerging, according to Kelly Smallridge, president, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. Seven of 13 new projects slated for Palm Beach County are in the aviation sector, resulting in 1,000 new and 500 retained jobs.
The Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) provides engineering expertise to small businesses in the region. SATOP is a free service designed to speed the transfer of space technology to the private sector.
Collaboration is key to growth along Southeast Florida's Treasure Coast, as the counties of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River have long been known. The three teamed up to create The Florida Research Coast, a collaborative effort designed to position the region as a hub for research and development. Working with area universities, research firms, school boards and economic development leaders, the initiative is aimed at guiding the region's industrial sciences development.
From the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Lake Okeechobee, Martin County is experiencing notable growth, says Ted Astolfi, executive director, Business Development Board of Martin County. An example is Indiantown. Long a farming community, this city of 12,000 residents is seeing significant growth. Centex Homes has several projects in the works here, and industrial development has arrived in the form of Venture Industrial Park and Indiantown Commerce & Technology Park, where 60 available lots will require only about a month for final permitting.
Over the next seven to 10 years, another 7,000 new homes could find a place in the county's western reaches, says Allon Fish, president and CEO of the Indiantown- Western Martin County Chamber of Commerce.
Mary Freeman, president and cofounder of Awareness Technology Inc., a Palm City-based manufacturer of lab instruments and chemical analyzers with 140 employees, sees Martin County as the launching pad for global growth. Her company recently supplied 1,000 Chinese labs with equipment designed to test and monitor the spread of disease in rural areas; she expects that business to grow.
Recent growth along Florida's Treasure Coast comes as no surprise to Levitt Corp.'s Core Commercial Group. As far back as the 1980s, Levitt developers saw what was happening in St. Lucie County. The company now has 1,600 homes under contract (600 are occupied and another 17,000 are planned) on the 8,300 acres it controls. The development includes a 4.5-mile employment corridor and eight million square feet of commercial, retail and industrial space fronting I-95.
New residents arrive in St. Lucie County with the intent to "get away from the daily grind," says Alan Karrh, president of Core Commercial Group. Attractive housing prices and nearby job growth appeal to companies considering a move to the area.
One example is circuit and switch maker Carling Technologies of Plainville, Conn. Last year, the company announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters and research and development facilities to Port St. Lucie in 2008, bringing or creating 150 jobs.
The prospect of such a move was "very difficult," wrote President Rick Sorenson in a letter to his Carling employees. But with global competition and new, emerging markets, it was the best decision to avoid becoming "a casualty of the global competitive marketplace." Sorenson was drawn to the area by the presence of FAU and Scripps nearby, as well as St. Lucie County's role in Florida's Research Coast initiative.
Elsewhere in St. Lucie County, Indian River Community College recently opened the $20 million Kight Center for Emerging Technologies in Fort Pierce, and will build a facility to train homeland security personnel. Florida State University Medical School is planning a site for internships. The county also is home to a 1,650-acre research park being created by University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and is bidding to become the relocation home of the National Biological Agricultural Defense System.
St. Lucie also serves as a distribution center. In June 2006, drugstore chain CVS, headquartered in Rhode Island, began operating its 430,000- square-foot fully automated distribution facility from a site in Indian River County, serving Florida from Interstate 4 southward. Location and logistics made the county ideal, says Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS. Once the facility is fully operational, it will offer 350 jobs and 30% more productivity in half the space of a conventional distribution center. "The facility performs the work of a typical distribution facility twice its size," he says.
Wal-Mart last year opened a $1.2 million distribution facility, employing 1,000 people, and boat makers Maverick Boat Company, Pursuit Boats and Twin Vee Catamarans are located here.
Also attractive to employers new to the region is the county's housing stock and labor pool. Some 100,000 new homes are planned, and the population stands at 240,000 residents--all of which are fueling growth in the construction trade, says Larry Daum, manager of tourism and economic development for St. Lucie County. The average purchase price for a home here is close to the national average, and population growth is steady at between 2% and 4% per year. Moreover, the Florida Research Coast initiative and the Workforce Development Board provide new employers with hiring solutions for any rung on the employment ladder, from entry level to more skilled hires.
CVS and Wal-Mart are only the beginning. The creation of a new highway interchange at Oslo Road will anchor a major east-west arterial roadway and open new industrial land to the west, where the former Ocean Spray processing plant is awaiting redevelopment.
"The vision is to attract industrial to that location," says Helene Caseltine, economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Development likely won't come until 2010, but the prospect is alluring. "It's a ways off, but the fact that it's there and approved excites us."
Tourism as a driver
With tourism a significant economic driver for Florida as a whole, Monroe County, and the Florida Keys in particular, is fueled by tourists and new seasonal residents and the developments and services designed to accommodate them.
Tourism spending in the Keys is forecast to remain strong, even as hotels are bought up and converted to condominiums, according to a recent study by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. Restaurants and related support industries will continue to thrive--albeit with a new customer base with higher than average disposable income--and the news has area business and civic leaders optimistic about the future, says Virginia A. Panico, president of the Federation of Chambers of the Florida Keys.
Akin to the economic boom facing other tourist areas like Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, condo conversions are changing the look of the Keys. Some 25% of Key West's hotel rooms are being converted to "condotels." And Ceebraid Acquisition of Delaware has contracted to convert Islamorada's fabled Holiday Isle Resort, with its 15 acres and 178 hotel rooms, efficiencies, cottages and suites, to high-end condominiums.
Tourism investment also is up. New player Cay Clubs along with Singh Co. and Coral Gables-based Peebles Corp. have acquired several area properties for condominium and resort use. Cay Clubs alone could generate 250 more jobs.
Ed Swift, president of Historic Tours of America Inc.--operator of Key West's Conch Tour Train and Old Town Trolley and other attractions and retail outlets--is bullish. "Key West is pretty much bulletproof as far as the tourist economy is concerned."
-- Jeff Zbar