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Florida's Rural Advantages - Good Business Sense

The Suwannee River is among many rural sites providing opportunities for ecotourism adventures in Florida. [Photo: RealAdventures]

In Florida’s rural counties, costs are low, the workforce is ready and lifestyles are idyllic. And with strategic business resources close at hand, it’s no wonder many businesses are finding bottom-line success in rural Florida.

Just look at these logistical attributes :

» No business in rural Florida is more than 90 miles from at least one deepwater port.

» No small town in Florida is more than a two-hour drive from at least one major airport.

» From every rural loading dock and workstation, more than 60% of the continental U.S. can be reached via overnight freight.

» The growth of broadband in rural Florida means instant communication is possible between almost any two points on the globe.

Rural Regional Roundup

Target Comes to Town

Target’s first company-owned perishable food distribution center — a 465,000-square-foot facility — is slated to open in August 2008 north of Lake City in Columbia County (North Central region) with 140 jobs initially and plans for at least 100 more. The fully automated, $85-million facility on U.S. 441 near I-75 and I-10 will support Target SuperCenters throughout Florida and Georgia.

Jobs and More Jobs

A massive public works project under way in Hendry County (South Central region) is impacting the area’s workforce in a big way. A $550,000 grant from the South Florida Water Management District is underwriting the cost of training area residents as heavy equipment operators for Everglades restoration work west of LaBelle. By mid-2007, about 200 of the 500 workers the water district anticipates it will need had been trained.

Fueling the Economy

At Cottondale in Jackson County (Northwest region), Green Circle Bio Energy Inc. is building a 300,000-square foot plant to produce environmentally friendly wood pellet fuel for power plants in Europe. The $100-million project will create more than 50 jobs, each paying better than $33,000 per year. A $675,000 state grant helped the county provide the necessary water and sewer facilities; when fully operational, the new plant will be the largest source of taxes in Jackson County.

Targeted and Ready

Credits, Refunds, Training — Additional Resources
  • Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund
    Over a minimum of four years, pays at least $6,000 per job created in an Enterprise Zone or rural county.

  • Economic Development Transportation Fund
    The “Road Fund” provides grants to local governments on behalf of business, with monies used for road improvements — up to $2 million per project.

  • Rural Job Tax Credit
    A tax credit against sales and use or corporate income tax may be taken by eligible businesses for the creation of new jobs at a rate of $1,000 per job created.

  • Quick Response Training
    Grant funding is available to reimburse companies for customized training costs for new employees.

  • Incumbent Worker Training
    Grant funding is available to reimburse training costs for existing employees.

  • Rural Infrastructure Fund
    Grants made to local government on behalf of a business may fund up to 30% of the costs for public infrastructure upgrades.

  • Rural Community Development Revolving Loans
    A loan or loan guaranty available for a specific project that will lead to new jobs and increase the economic vitality and diversification of Florida’s rural counties.
  • Since 2004, private- and public-sector entities have worked with outstanding cooperation on the Rural Economic Development Catalyst Project. With financial backing from state lawmakers, the project’s goal is to recruit high-growth, high-wage, capital-intensive industries to Florida’s three Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC): North Central, Northwest and South Central.

    As part of the process, officials and consultants interviewed economic experts, gathered data and assessed local, state, national and global trends to select target industry priorities that make the most sense for each raegion.

    Next came an inventory of potential sites and an assessment of each by numerous state agencies to determine readiness for development. The sites were then matched to specific industry sectors in the three regions. Nearly 50 sites were reviewed, and while only four were ultimately selected as ready sites for immediate development, all offer future development potential.

    Industry choices and sites

    » Northwest: The industry sector of choice is building component design and manufacturing, with an emphasis on “green” engineering and materials, storm-resistant buildings, innovations with composite material, engineered woods and other new technologies. Site: Calhoun County Industrial Park.

    » North Central: Building component design and manufacturing was matched with a site in Columbia County near Lake City; and logistics and distribution, including inventory management and data processing, was matched with a site in Suwannee County near Live Oak.

    » South Central: Healthcare and related sciences emerged as the preferred industry sector; Sebring Regional Airport was deemed the most suitable site. In fact, with infrastructure in place, many businesses are already located at the Sebring Airport and shovel-ready acreage is still available.

    To learn more about RACEC, the catalyst site locations and other rural sites for development, go to www.eflorida.com.

    Many attractions

    Ecotourism is becoming big business in rural Florida. The Original Florida Inc. has been promoting nature-based and heritage tourism in 12 northern Florida counties since 1998, helping to publicize the area’s pristine lakes, creeks and rivers; forests and wildlife; heritage events; and small towns. From airboat rides in the Everglades and excursions into the scrub-brush of Florida’s Panhandle to canoeing the Suwannee River and you-pick-’em farms around Live Oak, rural tourism is catching on.

    Enhanced Incentives:

    Companies can access a wide range of incentives in Rural Enterprise Zones (REZ) located in most of Florida’s 32 rural counties.

    • Jobs Tax Credit
      A tax credit for up to 24 months against corporate income tax or sales and use tax for new jobs created. The credit is for 30% of wages paid to employees living in an REZ. If more than 20% of employees live in the REZ, the credit is 45%.
    • Property Tax Credit
      A tax credit on corporate income tax equal to 96% of ad valorem taxes paid on new or improved property, for up to $25,000 per year for five years; the cap is $50,000 per year if 20% of employees live within the REZ.
    • Business Equipment Sales Tax Refund
      Refund of sales taxes paid on business property with a sales price of at least $5,000 per unit; the property must be used exclusively in the REZ for at least three years.
    • Building Materials Sales Tax Refund
      Refund of sales taxes paid on the purchase of building materials used to rehabilitate real property located in the REZ. Up to $5,000 is refundable (or $10,000 if 20% of the employees live within the REZ) per parcel.
    • Sales Tax Exemption for Electrical
      Energy A 50% sales tax exemption on the purchase of electrical energy to qualified businesses located within the REZ if the municipality has reduced the municipal utility tax by at least 50%; a 100% exemption is available if 20% of permanent, full-time employees live in the REZ.
    • Community Contribution Tax Credit
      A 50% credit on state corporate income tax, insurance premium tax or sales tax refund for donation to an approved local community development project.