Florida’s Northeast is a region fueled by possibilities and positioned to thrive. Located along I-95, just south of the Georgia state line, its signature city — Jacksonville — has added nearly 90,000 new residents since 2010 and, at 840 square miles, is the largest city by area in the continental U.S. Driving growth in this region are a skilled and diverse workforce of 837,000; a multimodal network of exceptional land-sea-air connections; and a can-do attitude that inspires innovation across industry sectors. No surprise, then, that three Fortune 500 companies and the national or divisional headquarters of more than 80 other firms have found homes here.
Home to more than 20 institutions on Forbes Global 500 list, Florida’s Northeast is widely known as an international banking, investment and insurance powerhouse. Among well-known brands thriving in Jacksonville are: Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Fidelity National Financial, FIS, Wells Fargo and VyStar Credit Union; two offshore financial institutions, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and Sydney-based Macquarie Group; and insurance giants Florida Blue, Aetna and Allstate.
FIS, a global leader in financial services technology and one of three Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Jacksonville, is doubling down on its commitment to Northeast’s Fintech industry sector. Founded in Little Rock in 1968, FIS went public in 2008 and that same year, chose Jacksonville as its headquarters. In November 2019, FIS announced plans to build a new and expanded world headquarters here. The anticipated 12-story structure overlooking the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville is expected to open by June 2022. Also anticipated: an additional 500 employees by 2029, bringing the company’s workforce in Jacksonville to approximately 1,800.
Also joining Northeast’s Fintech sector: Cantor Fitzgerald. The financial services firm headquartered in New York plans to open an office in Jacksonville to handle international securities processing; 80 new jobs are expected.
And to ensure that the region’s workforce is prepared for jobs in this growing industry sector, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has launched the “Northeast Florida Fintech Initiative” in conjunction with Florida State College at Jacksonville and St. John’s River State College. In addition to two technical certificate programs and a boot camp academy, the initiative will embed Fintech-related skills and coursework into accounting, business administration, financial services and information technology curricula.
KEY PLAYERS: Emtec, Jacksonville; Fidelity National Financial, Jacksonville; FIS, Jacksonville; Florida Blue, Jacksonville; SS&C Technologies, Jacksonville
Logistics & Transportation
Looking for seamless connections by land, air and sea? Northeast Florida has the goods. Two deep-water ports, three railroads, two commercial airports, a spaceport and three interstate highways — I-95, I-10 and I-75 — stand ready to provide business owners with easy access to suppliers and the customers they serve.
Amazon is among distribution companies taking full advantage of Northeast Florida’s prime location. The Seattle-based online retailer, which currently operates four facilities in Jacksonville, has three under development and is seeking to add two more. Nearing completion are two Amazon delivery stations on Jacksonville’s west side and another in St. Johns County, and on the drawing board is a delivery station for heavy bulk freight and a 1-million-sq.-ft. distribution center to handle Amazon’s “softlines” (apparel and shoes).
Also helping to grow Northeast’s logistics and transportation sector:
• Beverage distributor Champion Brands, celebrating the completion of its new $6-million, 36,000-sq.-ft. headquarters building in Jacksonville. Founded in 1985, Champion Brands has grown from 80 employees to 320 and currently handles approximately 1,600 products from 62 suppliers worldwide.
• CSX, investing $4.14 million on renovations at its Water Street headquarters building and Warrick Street dispatch facility in Jacksonville. Improvements to flooring, lighting and HVAC systems are planned.
• Four industrial projects are slated to add a total of 1.1 million square feet of warehouse space in north and west Jacksonville. The largest is a 477,362-sq.-ft. speculative building on almost 45 acres in Westlake Industrial Park that would include 2,366 square feet of office space.
JAXPORT, Florida’s largest container port, has continued to break records in three cargo categories. In FY 2019, the port moved more than 1.338 million TEUs, a 5% increase over 2018 and the fourth consecutive year for record container volumes. This port also moved the most vehicles in its history — nearly 696,500 total units — to maintain its position as one of the nation’s busiest vehicle handling ports. Contributing to this growth: strong auto sales in the Southeast combined with growing global demand for previously owned vehicles. And at 10.9 million tons, general cargo volumes were up too — by 4% over 2018. Meanwhile, a harbor deepening project to accommodate bigger cargo container ships continues at JAXPORT thanks to an influx of federal dollars and, in July 2020, the port welcomed Siem Confucius, the world’s first-of-its-size LNG-powered vehicle carrier.
Jacksonville International Airport celebrated its 51st anniversary year in 2019 with 7.1 million passengers, a 16.41% increase over 2018. In March 2020, JIA was one of three medium-sized airports in North America cited for best customer service by the Airports Council International.
And on the roads, Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) efforts to create a transportation hub connecting all modes of transportation from adjacent counties to downtown Jacksonville, including the First Coast Flyer (bus service) and Skyway (monorail), has finally crossed the finish line, sort of. A grand opening of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center at LaVilla scheduled for March 2020 was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A partial grand opening took place in early May with bus routes operating on a modified schedule; the JTA administrative offices and Skyway remain closed.
KEY PLAYERS: Amazon, Seattle, Wa.; Crowley Marine, Jacksonville; CSX, Jacksonville; Suddath, Jacksonville
Aviation/Aerospace & Defense
A second launch tenant has arrived at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville with plans to send small satellites into low Earth orbit for the military and other government agencies beginning in fall 2021. Huntsville, Ala.-based aerospace contractor Aevum joins existing Spaceport tenant Generation Orbit, which is planning to launch its first satellite from an aircraft out of Cecil within the next year. Owned by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, Cecil Spaceport is one of 11 licensed spaceports in the U.S.
Made in Space, a developer of space manufacturing technology, has relocated its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to Jacksonville, citing proximity to Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center and other aerospace companies as reasons for the move. The firm, which has had a manufacturing and testing presence in Jacksonville since 2015, nearly doubled its footprint at Baymeadows Business Center to accommodate administrative, engineering and production operations. Made in Space is credited with creating the first 3D printer to be used in space.
Jacksonville’s Naval Station Mayport commissioned its latest littoral combat ship — the USS St. Louis — in August 2020. The nearly 390-foot-long ship is the Navy’s 22nd LCS and one of 14 such vessels slated to be homeported at Mayport by 2023. Built by Lockheed Martin, littorals are designed primarily for near-shore missions such as minesweeping in shallow water and can travel at speeds over 40 knots.
KEY PLAYERS: BAE Systems, Farnborough, U.K.; Flightstar Aircraft Services, Jacksonville; Grace Aerospace, Jacksonville; Northrop Grumman, Falls Church, Va.
Jacksonville has a long-standing history of manufacturing excellence. The proof is in a neon coffee cup that first appeared atop the Maxwell House plant downtown in 1910. The signature cup still glows nightly, but in the intervening years, many more manufacturers have settled in Florida’s Northeast. In addition to coffee, products manufactured in this region include pacemakers, insulin pumps and other medical devices; glass bottles; high-tech lithium batteries; aircraft components; contact lenses; writing instruments; and peanut butter.
And at least three of this region’s manufacturers are in growth mode:
• Johnson & Johnson Vision, maker of Acuvue disposable contact lenses, has received a $24-million permit to expand the central utilities plant at its 732,000-sq.-ft. southside Jacksonville facility. In 2019, the World Economic Forum recognized Johnson & Johnson’s Jacksonville plant as a “lighthouse” — a so-called smart factory that embraces technology as a competitive advantage — for its use of vision-guided robots and augmented-reality tools to reduce costs and bring products to market faster.
• Georgia-Pacific, which makes Angel Soft and Quilted Northern bath tissue in addition to paper towels, has beefed up production to meet the increased demand for its products due to the coronavirus pandemic. The firm’s Palatka plant, which has about 1,000 employees, began producing 120% of its normal capacity in late March.
• Huckins Yacht, a third-generation family-owned custom yacht manufacturer in Jacksonville, has begun building the Hybrid Sportsman 38, a hybrid prototype that couples the design of the company’s 1936 Sportsman with the option of operating with either diesel or electric motors fueled by fireproof lithium ion phosphate batteries. The final product is expected to retail at around $1.3 million.
KEY PLAYERS: Johnson & Johnson Vision, Jacksonville; Pilot (Pen) Corporation of America, Jacksonville; Rayonier Advanced Materials, Jacksonville
Talent thrives in Florida’s Northeast thanks in large part to readily available educational opportunities at all levels. The region’s K-12 public educational options include five of the top 25 Florida school districts offering career-focused academies and career and technical education (CTE) programs. Three Jacksonville high schools were among the nation’s top 250 on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High Schools, 2020,” and one school district — St. Johns County — received its 10th consecutive “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education based on student achievement, learning gains and graduation rate (94.3% countywide) among other factors.
With a combined graduate and undergraduate enrollment topping 17,000, University of North Florida has, for the first time, been named among U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges — National Universities, 2020” at No. 281 and continues to remain among “Top Public Schools” at No. 140. In 2019, UNF’s Coggin’s College of Business was recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best business schools for the 13th consecutive year. And one more point of pride: UNF ranks No. 1 among the state’s 12 public universities for percentage of graduates employed in Florida.
Also making news: Edward Waters College, the first historically Black college in Florida, which is on its way to becoming a university as it expands course offerings and creates its first graduate-level program — a master’s degree in business administration; and Jacksonville University, named to U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Best Regional Universities South, 2020” at No. 28 and to “Best Colleges for Veterans” at No. 16.
Florida’s Northeast is widely known for its superior health care and here’s the documented proof. Three hospitals in the region were among the top 50 nationwide in one or more specialty on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals 2020-21” list.
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville topped the region and earned second-place statewide in seven adult specialties, including neurology and neurosurgery, gastroenterology and GI surgery and geriatrics. In 2019, Mayo opened its long-awaited Discovery and Innovation Building in Jacksonville. The 75,000-sq.-ft. structure houses a lung restoration facility where lung transplant experts repair and restore damaged lungs for transplantation; an automated stem cell manufacturing site; and a life sciences incubator for biotech entrepreneurs.
And coming soon to Mayo’s Jacksonville campus: a 140,000-sq.-ft. cancer care center where patients will have access to the newest form of proton therapy — pencil beam scanning. When completed in late 2023, the Mayo facility will be Jacksonville’s third proton therapy center.
Also claiming excellence on U.S. News & World Report’s 2020-21 list: Baptist Medical Center for gynecology. With an eye to growing health care services in Clay County, Baptist Health is planning to build a new, full-service hospital at its Baptist Clay Medical Campus on Fleming Island. The 300,000-sq.-ft. facility will open with 100 beds and the addition of enhanced cardiology and women’s services. An estimated 700 new jobs are anticipated when the hospital opens in early 2022.
UF Health Jacksonville also earned U.S. News & World Report recognition in the ear, nose and throat category. In Nassau County, UF Health continues construction on its Wildlight wellness building. Slated for completion in early fall 2020, UF Health Rehabilitation-Wildlight will provide a variety of education, fitness and recreation programs aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle for residents of the surrounding community.
Other hospitals making news in the region: Orange Park Medical Center, which opened a cardiac treatment center with 14 patient rooms and two electrophysiology labs to test, diagnose and treat abnormal heart rhythms; Ascension St. Vincent, opening free-standing emergency rooms in two Jacksonville locations; and St. Augustine’s Flagler Hospital, exploring the idea of building a “health village” in the St. Johns County community of Durban Park.
Children’s health care has had an important role to play in this region too. Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville garnered recognition on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals, 2020-21” list in three pediatric specialties: diabetes & endocrinology (No. 45); orthopedics (No. 48); and urology (No. 50). Among recent developments at Wolfson: construction of a lead-lined therapy suite to allow for the high-dose radiation therapy (MIBG) needed to treat children with high-risk neuroblastoma, the third most common childhood cancer after leukemia and brain/spine tumors. Wolfson is the first hospital in Florida to offer the procedure.
Life & Leisure
Contrary to popular belief, America’s earliest settlers weren’t British, and they didn’t touch ground at Plymouth Rock. Spanish conquistadors were first to arrive in Northeast Florida at what is today St. Augustine and — here’s the good news — they left plenty of evidence behind for 21st-century tourists to enjoy. Worth the trip to St. Augustine from anywhere in Florida: the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. (Castillo de San Marcos); the oldest house; the oldest wooden schoolhouse; the oldest store; a wonderfully bizarre collection of “stuff” at the Lightner Museum; and even an alligator farm where you can zipline just above the reptiles. And for a bird’s-eye view of it all, visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum — only 219 winding steps to the top!
When it comes to attractions worth visiting in this neck of the woods, St. Augustine only scratches the surface. In Jacksonville, there’s the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Museum of Science and History (MOSH) and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, which in addition to the usual complement of lions, lemurs and elephants, houses a bunch of birds with interesting names like blue-bellied roller, double-striped thick knee and spotted dikkop. For history buffs, there’s downtown Fernandina Beach boasting 400+ historic homes, churches and commercial buildings, and Green Cove Springs, which some believe to be the actual “Fountain of Youth” that Ponce de Leon is said to have come looking for. And, of course, there’s the ocean. Florida’s Northeast boasts 90 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline for swimming, snorkeling, sailing, surfing or just sunning.
For the golfer, Florida’s Northeast boasts more than 80 golf courses, including TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra where the Players PGA Tournament is held annually. And still under construction nearby, PGA Tour’s new 187,000-sq.-ft. headquarters. Elsewhere in the region, there are plenty of spectator sports to enjoy and teams to cheer for, including the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, the AFL Jacksonville Sharks, Minor League Baseball’s Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the NASL Jacksonville Armada FC and one of college sports’ biggest rivalries, the annual Florida-Georgia Football Classic. COVID-19 has put them all on hiatus for now, but not to worry … they’ll be back one day soon.