November 29, 2023
Amazon Jacksonville
Amazon is expected to employ 5,000 at the two distribution centers it opened last year in Jacksonville.

Photo: Deremer Studios

St. Augustine tourism
Tourism is a major part of St. Augustine’s economy, but growth is continuing in other industries as well.
AutoZone was one of several distributors to open facilities in Marion County.
PGA Tour headquarters
PGA Tour will add 300 jobs in St. Johns County after moving into its new headquarters, which is scheduled for completion in 2020.
Ocala horse breeders
More than 400 horses were sold during the Ocala Breeders’ Sales winter auction.

2018 Economic Yearbook

Northeast Florida: Snapshot of the region's economic strengths and challenges, people to watch

Mark Basch | 3/28/2018



Despite the efforts of government and law enforcement officials, crime rates continued to climb last year.

The most recent data compiled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show crimes in Duval County rose 0.4% in the first six months of 2017. While not a big increase, crimes throughout the state over the same period fell 2%.

More troubling, a homicide tracker maintained by the Florida Times-Union shows the number of murders in Jacksonville rose by 22 to 142 for all of 2017, just one fewer than a recent high of 143 in 2008.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says it is participating in a number of initiatives with state and federal agencies and other groups to combat crime, including working with the National Network for Safe Communities, focusing on gang-related homicides and gun violence.


Some Jacksonville-area families have moved to neighboring St. Johns or Clay counties because of concerns about the quality of public schools in Duval County.

Statistics indicate that Duval County Public Schools are improving, however. The district, 20th-largest in the nation with 196 schools and 128,702 students, earned a B in 2017 for the third straight year, after receiving a C from the state for the previous three years.

The number of A-graded schools in the district rose from 28 to 41 last year, while the number of D schools fell from 33 to 13.

The graduation rate for Duval County reached 80.8% in 2017, up from 78.8% in 2016 and up 13.1 percentage points since 2012.

The graduation rate still lags the 88.4% rate in neighboring Clay County and 90.9% in St. Johns. Duval County also trailed Florida’s statewide graduation rate of 82.3% in 2017.

CHALLENGE: Economic Development

Amazon didn’t take Jacksonville up on the city’s offer of a free downtown riverfront campus for the retailer’s giant second headquarters project and its 50,000 jobs, but Mayor Lenny Curry isn’t discouraged. “This was an aspirational proposal we put forth,” says Curry. “We are blocking and tackling every day on economic development.”

The Jacksonville metropolitan area added 17,500 jobs in 2017 after a gain of 15,900 jobs the previous year, and economic development officials point to several significant wins. While it won’t put a headquarters in Jacksonville, Amazon opened two distribution centers last year that are expected to employ about 5,000.

Other recruitment wins for the city last year included the opening of an Ernst & Young services center with 450 jobs and Formativ Health’s operations center with 500 jobs.


CHALLENGE: Government Operations

Three years ago, Gainesville established a task force to find ways to make the city more competitive.

“There were a lot of people seeing Planning and Development Services as an impediment to the economic growth of the county,” says Wendy Thomas, whom the city hired in 2016 as the first director of the Department of Doing, a new office created from the task force to make planning and development easier and more user-friendly.

Among the changes implemented by the new department is an electronic filing system, replacing the old system of shuffling papers between personnel and offices. The city can now promise developers it will review plans submitted within 15 days, compared with the old process that could take three to six months.

The office also has an interactive map on its website so any resident can see the projects going up in his or her neighborhood and click on it for basic information. “We have the customer in mind with everything we do,” says Thomas — including a redesigned lobby for its offices to make it more welcoming. “It just sets the tone of the experience they’re going to have with us,” Thomas says.


CHALLENGE: Government Operations

Voters in the small town of Hastings — population 580 — decided they couldn’t maintain their local government. In a referendum last fall, 82% of Hastings voters agreed to dissolve the “Potato Capital of Florida” and turn over its operations to St. Johns County.

“They realized they weren’t in a financial position to continue operating and delivering services to the community that residents expect,” says county administrator Michael Wanchick.

It will cost St. Johns County about $7 million, including assuming $1 million in town debt and spending about $3 million to improve the water and sewer system. But with a county budget of about three-quarters of a billion dollars, St. Johns can absorb it, Wanchick says.

If Hastings had declared bankruptcy, the county would have had to take over anyway, and county commissioners agreed that it was best to let the town dissolve instead of facing an uncertain future.

“They preferred to take over the town in an organized, wellplanned manner,” Wanchick says.

CHALLENGE: Economic Development

St. Johns, one of the fastestgrowing counties in the U.S., has seen its population grow 23.7% since 2010. And despite adding nearly 10,000 residents a year, the county’s 2.8% unemployment rate was the lowest in the state at the end of 2017.

With the historic city of St. Augustine and the resort community of Ponte Vedra Beach, tourism is a major part of the county’s economy. The leisure and hospitality sector accounted for 37% of jobs in mid-2017.

Growth is continuing outside of the tourist meccas, with major mixed-used projects in development in the northern part of the county. The valuation of commercial building permits issued in fiscal 2017 jumped 52%.

“While our efforts are focused on attracting targeted industry businesses such as corporate headquarters, manufacturing and industrial opportunities, we welcome the retail and commercial activity we’re seeing to meet the needs of our growing community,” says Melissa Glasgow, director of economic development for St. Johns.


CHALLENGE: Economic Development

Ocala officials are touting several economic wins in 2017, including a burgeoning logistics sector. Companies including AutoZone, Chewy and McLane all began building distribution centers, says Kevin Sheilley, president of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership, and “are just now starting to hire.”

Sheilley says the Chewy and AutoZone facilities could bring 1,500 jobs this year, a significant number for a metro area that saw a net gain of just 900 in 2017. And while the unemployment rate is still higher than most of Florida, it has dropped from its peak of 14% in 2010 after the recession.

“We had farther to come down than everyone else,” says Sheilley.

Tags: Northeast, Economic Yearbook

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