Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Treasure Coast - Yearbook

Economic developers now call the region the Research Coast — and with good reason: Torrey Pines and the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute are promising to diversify the economy.

The Treasure Coast


> Raise awareness of the economic importance of the agriculture industry to St. Lucie County.

> Diversify the county's economic base.

> Reduce the inventory of unsold homes.

MSA DEC. 2010 DEC 2009 % Change Jobless Rate
Port St. Lucie
161,679 161,133 +0.3% 13.4%
Sebastian Inlet
Vero Beach
53,799 53,663 +0.3% 13.6%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes Single-family, existing-home sales by Realtors
MSA Jan. 2011 Sales 1-Year Change Jan. 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Pierce/
Port St. Lucie
345 -25% $98,800 -2%
Source: Florida Realtors

St. Lucie Population: 281,452
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 1.62%
Population by Age:
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.8% 5.8% 22.9% 32.1% 20.4%
Per Capita Income: $29,676

Jay Nelson, director, Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida
Director Jay Nelson, at the site of the Port St. Lucie campus of the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida, an offshoot of an Oregon research center. Its 100,000-sq.-ft. facility, focused on HIV/AIDS, cancer and infectious diseases, joins nearby Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies as the county's life science cluster. VGTI got $60 million in incentives from the state and $53 million in infrastructure development from the city. The campus, scheduled to be completed in 2012, is seen as an important step in diversifying the county's economy.
[Photo: Steve Martinel]

Port St. Lucie/ St. Lucie County

batterStepping up to the Plate

> ROOKIE PLAYER: Donkboard.com Ronald Lewis believes there's a niche for a luxury, cruising skateboard — wheels, for instance, with a diameter two to four times that of standard skateboard wheels — that retails for around $550. To serve that niche, he founded Donkboard.com in Port St. Lucie last year. "The response has been incredible," he says. Lewis, who has a degree in nuclear medicine, has a day job in medical imaging.

> EMERGING STAR: Mann Research Center — About a year from now, the first building at the Mann Research Center at Tradition in Port St. Lucie, a 100,000-sq.-ft. medical office building, should be coming out of the ground, a building that will support Martin Memorial's planned hospital, and its 400 jobs. Mann Center President John DelRusso says there's nothing concrete for now on when the 22-acre center's true ambition — life science R&D buildings — will come up. Given the financial situation in California and other factors, DelRusso says, Florida is in an enviable position. "Honestly, the action's here," he says. The center will be about 400,000 square feet.

> HEAVY HITTER: Liberty Medical Supply — The Port St. Lucie-based home delivery supplier of diabetes testing supplies and other chronic condition products and prescription meds has been a steady employer. The unit of New Jersey-based Medco Health Solutions, under President Joan Kennedy, employs nearly 2,000 on the Treasure Coast. "We have had stable employment and foresee that into the future," says Medco spokeswoman Jennifer Leone Luddy.

playersImpact Players

> Ben DeVries, executive director, Treasure Coast Research Park — After two years, Ben DeVries nearly has an approved land plan for 1.324 million square feet of research, labs, offices and other facilities at the Treasure Coast Research Park, a collaboration of the state, county, local school district and the University of Florida that at buildout will have 3.3 million square feet of buildings and 850 acres for plant testing and development. UF and the USDA already have facilities in the park. DeVries says roads and other infrastructure will come this year, and he has a letter of intent with a solar panel maker to locate there.

> Russ Knowles, owner, Remetronix — In 1992, Russ Knowles began managing Remetronix, a New Jersey company that installs medical equipment such as X-ray machines. In 2000, he bought the company and moved it to Port St. Lucie. Knowles expects $15 million to $20 million in revenue this year, thanks in large part to demand in international markets and to a growing sideline restoring electronic equipment damaged in fires and floods. His company in February began work on its largest contract, a $500,000 job fixing equipment in a damaged peanut processing facility in Argentina. He employs 120 globally, including 25 in Port St. Lucie. "This year we do anticipate growth," he says.

> Mike Adams, owner, Adams Ranch — Mike Adams, 55, is the third generation of his family to run the 50,000-plus-acre Adams Ranch operation, based in St. Lucie, though the family also manages land in Osceola, Okeechobee and Madison counties and in Georgia. Primarily a cow-calf business, the ranch is in the top 15 nationally in brood cows. It does limited exporting of its heat-tolerant stock to Belize, Panama and other countries and has the Braford brand started by his father, as well as composite breeds that are closer aligned with today's U.S. market needs and more fertile. With beef exports growing and American consumption up coming out of the recession, cattle prices are strong, Adams says. Agriculture, unlike development, has held up in the recession. Citrus took a wallop from the 2004-05 hurricanes and then canker, which cost Adams about half his 1,500 acres of groves.

Stuart / Martin County

Martin Population: 144,452
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.99%
Population by Age:
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
14.7% 5.4%
18.1% 34.9% 26.9%
Per Capita Income: $55,480

Martin County made a zoning change to ease the way for life science companies wanting to locate near the research institutions in adjoining Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. Life science and energy companies are interested in the county. "There are people who have been at the cusp for a while and are finally ready," says Crystal Stiles, co-director of the Business Development Board of Martin County. The county will get a job boost when the long-delayed $73.4-million Indian Street bridge, said to be the largest federal stimulus project on the Treasure Coast, begins construction. Snowbird visits and tourism are doing well. "We're looking a lot better," says Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Catrambone. For example: STS Aviation Group CEO Philip Anson Jr. expects to hire another 15 this year at the staffing, engineering, parts and maintenance company's Jensen Beach headquarters, adding to the company's 80 in Martin County and 1,100 nationally.

Vero Beach/ Indian River County

Indian River Population: 139,670
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 1.26%
Population by Age:
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
5.3% 19.1% 32.6% 27.1%
Per Capita Income: $52,344

In the first two months of the year, NetBoss Technologies in Sebastian hired nine people, bringing its total headcount to 55 with plans to hire 10 more. "Business right now is looking very promising," says Jim Odom, CEO of the network management and IT services assurance company. Indian River needs much more of the same. A strong hospitality sector and groundbreaking for an ethanol plant provide some promise for a county that began the year with 13.6% unemployment, one of the highest rates in Florida. "Reducing the unemployment rate, absolutely that's No. 1," says Helene Caseltine, economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce.

The county and its municipalities passed a tax abatement measure late last year to encourage job creation. Major employers such as Disney's Vero Beach Resort, a CVS distribution center and the Indian River Medical Center and Sebastian River Medical Center provide stability. With a shortage of suitable sites for large commercial or industrial end-users to locate, county commissioners approved a rare change to the county's urban service boundary to open 575 agricultural acres west of Interstate 95 for development of research parks, major distribution centers and so on. The attorney for the landowners, Christopher Marine, says "there have been inquiries, nothing formally" from prospects.

Disney's Vero Beach resort
Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a major employer. [Photo: Disney]

Okeechobee County

Okeechobee Population: 41,080
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.65%
Population by Age:
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
21.0% 6.7%
27.1% 29.3% 15.9%
Per Capita Income: $25,957

Royal Concrete Concepts
Royal Concrete Concepts has hired 51 since January. [Photo: Royal Concrete Concepts]

Unemployment in Okeechobee County remains high but is down markedly from its 14.9% peak in August. Tourism and agriculture remain the mainstays of the economy, and the weather this year has affected both: Cold weather harmed the crops but also drove northerners south. West Palm Beach modular home builder Royal Concrete Concepts has hired 51 employees since the beginning of the year, most of them in Okeechobee, where it has an 85-employee plant that makes concrete walls and roofs and entire units for schools, commercial buildings and homes. Royal expects to start shipping the first of 200 homes to Angola in the second quarter and hire 150 to make them.

Brian Cartland
Brian Cartland
The county, meanwhile, is spending $3 million in mostly federal money to upgrade facilities at the county airport. "Several good projects are eyeing Okeechobee, so look for some positive announcements by the middle of 2011," says Brian Cartland, executive director of the Business Development Board of Okeechobee.

Reality Bites

Building Permits -
Okeechobee County

2009 2,402
"Very few bright spots on the Treasure Coast. We are technically in recovery, have been since the third quarter of 2009, technically, but it is very slow, very painful. The residential market is still seriously impaired. In St. Lucie County, for example, 62% of mortgages are under water, fourth-highest in the nation. Osceola County is second-highest. We continue to struggle. It's a very sad state of affairs. We're going to be at least '12 before we start seeing anything. It's going to be '14 before employment gets back to a more normal level. The new normal is going to be in the 6.5%-7% range. Not real optimistic. I think we are going to lag on the Treasure Coast for a little bit for many of the reasons that were our strengths in the past.

Okeechobee County Foreclosures

We were so dominated by construction ... and also retirement, retirement housing and growth for retirement. Many of the people from our feeder markets in the Northeast and Midwest are also unable to sell their houses."

— Bill Pittenger, president, chief economist / JVI Appraisal Division, Lake Mary