May 20, 2024

Northeast Florida Roundup

All cylinders: St. Johns grows its base beyond tourism

Mar Basch | 4/27/2016

The historic sites of St. Augustine and the golf resorts of Ponte Vedra Beach make tourism a driving force in the St. Johns County economy. But other sectors are clicking as well: Along with leisure and hospitality and construction, “our manufacturers are also growing,” says Melissa Glasgow, director of economic development in St. Johns County.

Northrop Grumman, the county’s largest industrial employer, is expanding its St. Augustine aerospace facility, adding 400 jobs to the 1,100 already working there. The county also benefited from the move of Ideal Aluminum Products’ headquarters from DeLand to St. Augustine, bringing more than 100 jobs, Glasgow says.

“Our aim is to continue to diversify our economy so we’re not as dependent on single-industry sectors such as tourism and home building,” she says.

Outside of St. Augustine, northern St. Johns County serves as a bedroom community for Jacksonville, with largely upscale developments that have little unemployment, says University of North Florida economist Paul Mason.

For two years in a row, the county has had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state, behind only Monroe County. St. Johns County’s average unemployment rate dropped from 4.7% in 2014 to 3. 9% last year.

“While I see that as clearly positive, I also realize that for the rate to drop much lower could potentially impact the ability of businesses to find enough workers to sustain their growth,” Glasgow says.

Meanwhile, the county’s 4% population growth rate ranked St. Johns as the 11th fastest-growing county in the nation in 2014. “That influx of people will help add to our workforce and keep it balanced.” Glasgow says.


Taste of Jacksonville

Jacksonville merchants have a lot of enticing items to offer, Andrew Dutt discovered when he sent a basket of local gifts to out-of- state relatives.

“Everybody loved it and wanted more of the stuff,” he says.

That inspired Dutt and David Walton to start a business called River City Crate — gift baskets of Jacksonville-produced merchandise such as Peterbrooke chocolates and Howler Monkey Sauce.

Besides growing his own company, Dutt is also hoping it will spotlight other local businesses.“The small-business environment in Jacksonville is very appealing,” he says.


Anthony Hucker joined Southeastern Grocers as COO. He was president and COO of Schnucks, a Midwest food retailer. Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers is the parent of the Winn- Dixie, Bi-Lo and Harveys supermarket chains.

Kenneth Sweder was promoted to CEO of Interline Brands, following the retirement of Mike Grebe. Sweder was previously president of Jacksonville-based Interline, which was acquired by Home Depot in August.

Business Briefs

JACKSONVILLE — Winn- Dixie opened what it called its “next generation store,” a new supermarket model that features locally sourced fresh food and a “store-within- a-store” health food section. Winn-Dixie plans to remodel about 50 stores this year based on the new concept. Because of financial issues, the organizers of crowd-funding festival One Spark reduced the event to one day in downtown Jacksonville last month, followed by a day of seminars on innovation and entrepreneurship. The Jacksonville Jaguars have begun an off-season renovation in and around EverBank Field. The renovations include an upgraded club seat section, an enclosed “flexfield” that will double as a practice field and a venue for fan events and a 5,500-seat amphitheater that can be used for concerts and other events. Houston-based real estate firm Hines plans to buy a 105-acre property on Jacksonville’s Southside to develop a mixed-use residential, office and retail project. The project is located in a high-growth area near an IKEA store expected to open next year. BAE Systems may lay off up to 210 of its remaining 700 employees at two Jacksonville area shipyards. The London-based global defense contractor already cut 100 jobs last fall amid reduced demand for commercial shipbuilding and repair services. Convenience store chain Wawa is planning to open 20 to 25 stores in Jacksonville. Group is buying digital marketing company Yodle for $342 million. The move allows the company to expand its ability to offer digital marketing services.Fidelity National Financial invested $22 million in Colt Defense as the firearms manufacturer emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Fidelity, mainly a title insurance company,made the investment through its Fidelity National Financial Ventures unit. APR Energy was acquired by a consortium of private equity firms, including Albright Capital Management, an investment fund chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. APR builds interim power plants mostly overseas but intends to keep its headquarters in Jacksonville. Latitude 360 closed its entertainment and dining venues in Jacksonville and Indianapolis, leaving it with just one location in Pittsburgh. The company, which still has its headquarters office in Jacksonville, went public in 2014 with plans to expand.

GAINESVILLE — Whole Foods Market plans to open its first Gainesville store. The store will be a 365 by Whole Foods Market location, a new concept that is smaller and features lower prices than traditional Whole Foods grocery stores.

LAKE CITY — Sitel Worldwide plans to lay off 128 employees. Sitel, which provides outsourced customer service, still has 340 employees in Lake City.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY — Gatlin Development and Gate Petroleum plan a 600,000-sq.-ft. retail center in northern St. Johns County along I-95 called Durbin Lakes. The developer expects to break ground early next year and open the first phase of the center a year late.

Women Entrepreneurs

Jacksonville’s ranking of women- owned businesses among the 25 largest U.S. cities:


Number of businesses in 2012, 18th nationally


Growth from 2007- 12, 9th nationally


Average revenue per business in 2012, 21st nationally

Source: Center for an Urban Future

Tags: Northeast, Travel & Tourism

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