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A year's rent for a buck. What's the catch?
By Matt Moore

In Lafayette County, where the Suwannee River winds its way through vast tracts of timber and mile after mile of wetlands, the County Development Authority has a pitch to bring in more business. Instead of offering tax exemptions or reducing permitting fees, it's giving manufacturers space in the Lafayette County Industrial Park on Highway 27 for next to nothing. Rent for the first year is $1. Of course, rent goes up the following year -- to $1 a square foot.
What's the catch? "It's only for someone who comes in and has a manufacturing facility, and they have to employ people from Lafayette County," says Johnny Hewitt, who volunteers as chairman of the development authority. "The big thing is you must employ people from here." The industrial park, home to Sports-Craft Boats before it moved to Perry last year, has some 60,000 square feet in three buildings. Two tenants, Mayo Truss Co. and Bass Assassin, a manufacturer of fishing lures, occupy nearly 36,000 square feet.
Lafayette County (pop. 8,000) is home to more than 20 dairies and four pine straw bailing companies. Its largest employers are the Mayo Correctional Institution, the school board and the 2-year-old Lafayette Health Care Center. Gwen Dixon, with Dixon Realty in Mayo, describes the community: "We have one traffic light, no four-lane highways and no railroads."
With Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Gainesville less than 90 minutes away, the county's children often leave home for better jobs. "We're not a large, populated area and sometimes it's very hard to get people," says William C. McCray, who also volunteers at the development authority. "We want to try and develop industry so that our youth won't have to leave to find a job."
Vera Shiver, her husband and four sons run Bass Assassin and took advantage of the offer after their plant near Mayo burned down. "They came to us that day and told us that a building was available and it was ours," she says. After paying $1 the first year, they now lease a 30,000-sq.-ft. building for $30,000 and deduct the costs of all improvements. The money saved has meant more capital to expand the business, which employs nearly 50. Most live in Lafayette, but a few drive in from neighboring Suwannee County.
Hewitt repeats that the offer is only for manufacturers. "It is not a retail process," he says. "The intent is to try and entice industries to come to us to provide jobs for the people in this area." He says the offer has piqued the interest of a few companies that happened to hear about it. The authority hasn't done any advertising. Instead, it relies on Enterprise Florida and word of mouth. "We have about 22,000 square feet of space that we're fixing to renovate," Hewitt says, "and we have a small building that has 1,500 square feet that is available right now."

In the News

LYNN HAVEN -- City leaders approved an eight-year tax abatement for The Trane Co., which paves the way for Trane to expand its 100,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing plant by 300,000 square feet The company says it will quadruple its workforce to 400.

OKALOOSA COUNTY -- Eglin Air Force Base will lose more than 350 full-time jobs, military and civilian, following U.S. Air Force restructuring plans that will send several units and their local support operations to other bases.

Applied Research Associates, a U.S Air Force contractor at Tyndall Air Force Base, is laying off 72 workers because Defense Department budget cuts ended the company's contract.

PANAMA CITY BEACH -- Patronis Bros. Enterprises plans to expand the market for its Econfina Natural Spring Water into Alabama and Georgia. The water is bottled from spring water that feeds Econfina Creek and is distributed by Culligan Bottled Water.

PORT ST. JOE -- Real estate company St. Joe Co./Arvida will pay the city $150,000 a year for seven years to operate a 120-slip marina built with $2.5 million in low-interest loans from the U.S. Rural Development Agency. The city built the marina last year as part of downtown revitalization efforts. Arvida says it will spend $500,000 in start-up costs and get a two-year exemption from property taxes. Tampa-based Brandy Marine will handle day-to-day operations.

TALLAHASSEE -- The James Madison Institute, a think tank that has researched school vouchers, tax issues and social policies, acquired the nonprofit foundation formed by Gov. Jeb Bush after his 1994 gubernatorial defeat. The new foundation will be called The James Madison Institute: A Foundation for Florida's Future.

WEWAHITCHKA -- Gulf Correctional Institution is set to open its new prison annex to house inmates from neighboring counties, creating 150 jobs. Many positions could be filled with workers laid off by the Florida Coast Paper Co. mill in nearby Port St. Joe [see Two-Lane Florida, page 82]. The state agreed to pick up the cost of training the new workers. The annex increases the prison's capacity to 2,500.


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