by Mike Vogel
Updated 10 months ago
Vero Beach/Indian River County
One of Florida’s wealthier counties, thanks to a high proportion of investment income, Indian River also has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates. Construction remains moribund. The outlook for one of the region’s larger employers, plane maker Piper, remains cloudy. But Indian River County Chamber of Commerce economic development director Helene Caseltine reports interest in the county from internet companies and, because of plenty of available land, alternative energy firms. The county’s ace-in-the-hole: Second homes. “The CEO who comes calling on us has a second home here,” Caseltine says.
Person to Watch
» Stuart C. Woodward’s software company, OcuCue in Vero Beach, has a unique IT product: Software that lets people — technical or otherwise — monitor their IT networks’ status with visual icons. The longtime county resident started the year with eight employees at OcuCue. The company is on its way to 25.
Business to Watch
» Fast-growing SpectorSoft, a Vero Beach maker of software that enables companies to monitor employee computer usage, plans to hire 15 to 20 this year. “We are excited by the prospects of a return to the growth rates we experienced in ’05 and ’06,” says CFO Larry Thompson. Though businesses heavily scrutinize all purchases when money is tight, the company is counting on increased exposure and on marketing the benefits of watching workplace computer use, Thompson says.
Tim Girard, CEO of Girard Equipment [Photo: Matt Dean]
» Tim Girard, CEO of Girard Equipment, moved his third-generation family business to Vero Beach in 2008 from New Jersey, where high property and income taxes, onerous laws and the high cost of living and labor turned him off. His company makes pressure relief vents and other hardware for containers carrying hazardous liquids and also makes tanker trucks. “When I had a good year, I was giving a good portion of it to New Jersey.” It was likewise hard on employees. “Between gas, tolls and taxes, there wasn’t much for them to take home. It is a very expensive place to live.” He employs 28 in Vero Beach, the company’s manufacturing hub, and has offices in New Jersey, Chicago, London, Beijing and Rotterdam. His parents lived in Jupiter and he had vacationed in Florida since he was a boy. “I’ve had kind of an affinity for Florida my whole life.” Several years ago, he and his wife drove north from Jupiter to look at the towns and took a shine to Vero. He bought a condo in 2003. He found the chamber supportive: “They rolled out the red carpet for me. They were instrumental in getting me down here. It’s only getting better.”
The recession brought change to Martin County. Always protective of its quality of life and suspicious of growth, Martin finally jumped into the incentives game last year to help local companies and bring in new ones. “I think that we learned we can’t be an island unto ourselves,” says chamber President Joe Catrambone. The housing inventory is shrinking at last, but high demand for new construction is far off. Snowbirds continue to be a vital part of the economy.
Person to Watch
» James Crocker opened the new headquarters for his Waterblasting Technologies in July and plans to hire 20 workers to add to its existing 100 as he rolls out a new product and accessory line. The company makes vehicles that use ultra-high-pressure waterblasting to clean and remove paint and rubber buildup from runways and roadways. In January 2009, the company had no back orders. One year later, it has orders for 16 trucks. Crocker expects 15% growth this year. “We are thriving.” He has come out with a new filter system that allows his equipment to reuse its water, reducing overall water use to a fraction of that used by older gear.
Business to Watch
» After hiring 15 in 2009 in production, engineering, tooling and facilities, airframe structure manufacturer Vought Aircraft Industries will hire 20 by year-end, mostly in production, to add to its existing 235 employees. It plans to hire another 65 by 2012.
» SOL, a Palm City solar lighting company, won attention for sending 130 outdoor solar light systems, valued at $300,000, to Haiti to aid recovery efforts there. The company will add three to its Florida workforce this year. CEO Rick Schuette has been on the job less than two years.
» The six-employee Level 3 Inspections, which specializes in high-tech inspection of precision products and production tooling in the aerospace, biomed and other industries, plans to hire 33 over three years at an average wage of $58,000. “We need people who understand computer-aided design, dimensional blueprints and inspection requirements,” says Bill Greene. Knowledge of jet engines and orthopedic implants also helps.
» Coaxial Components in Stuart, a maker of connectors, adapters and cable assemblies for the military and commercial market, will add 10 to 14 over three to five years to its existing 14.
Port St. Lucie/ St. Lucie County
The county has closed economic incentive deals to bring nearly 2,300 jobs, of which 1,500 are in call center work paying an average of $20,000 to $39,000 per year, depending on the employer. But many of the other 800 jobs are in the likes of medical device making, digital arts and beverage distribution, paying an average of $46,500 to $65,000.
John Textor is building his Digital Domain Holdings, a maker of movies and games, in St. Lucie County. [Photo: Steven Martine]
» John Textor as of Dec. 31 had hired 21 people at an average salary of $137,143 for his Digital Domain Holdings, a new digital movie-games studio he’s creating with state and local incentives. The studio will be temporarily housed in Port St. Lucie and Indian River State College in Fort Pierce while its permanent home is under construction this year. Textor, 44, says he’s well ahead of government required benchmarks for hiring and plans full productions for later this year. “We’re very pleasantly surprised with the talent that’s in Florida and particularly surprised with the talent that’s from Florida and wants to return to Florida.”
Business to Watch
» Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute Florida, enticed with $60 million in state money to locate in Port St. Lucie, expects to have 40 to 50 investigators, administrators and support staff by midyear, up from 28 full-time investigators, administrators and support staff in January. The researcher envisions having 200 in place by 2013, when its $42.5-million facility opens. Groundbreaking is expected this month. Chief Operating Officer Mark Williams says the Florida startup already has $6 million in newly awarded and transferred grants and has applied for an additional $48 million.
The Vacine and Gene Therapy Institute (rendering) is gearing up to almost double its staff by midyear. [Rendering: VGTI]
Meanwhile, commercial real estate prices are down 35% in the region. “Commercial real estate is the weak link in the economy right now and in the recovery,” Pittenger says. Look for a U-shaped economic recovery. “But the bottom of the U is going to be very long.”
Business to Watch
» Shoppes on the Boardwalk, the latest multimillion-dollar endeavor of David Nunez Jr. and his wife, Anita, includes Hammerheads’ Billiards Bar & Grill, which will employ 57, two retail spaces and a martial arts school to join an already-completed office space. The couple own several Okeechobee businesses.
|MSA||Jan. 2009||Jan. 2010||% Change||Jobless Rate|
|Port St. Lucie||166,515||159,472||-4.2%||14.5%|
|Sebastian Inlet/Vero Beach||56,363||53,471||-5.1%||14.4%|
|Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation|
Single-family existing-home sales by Realtors
|MSA||Jan. 2010 Sales||1-Year Change||Jan. 2010 Price||1-Year Change|
|Fort Pierce/Port St.Lucie||462||+28%||$101,100||-12%|
|Source: Florida Association of Realtors|
|» Population Totals|
|2.4% or higher 1.0%-2.4% 1.0% or less|
|Average Annual Growth|
|» Population by Age|
|Years of Age (2010)|
|» Per Capita Income|
|Source of Income|
|County||Per Capita Income 2010||Labor||Property||Transfer|