Updated 8 yearss ago
CSX rail lines provide easy connections to key markets throughout Florida and the entire southeastern United States.
Some of the nation’s largest retailers and service firms are lining up to build new facilities in Florida’s North Central region, and a number of other companies are relocating all or part of their operations here. The reasons can be summed up in three words: transportation, workforce and affordability.
National companies seeking optimal locations for their distribution centers, for example, are choosing the North Central region because of its rich highway and railway access to points throughout Florida, as well as to Georgia and the entire Southeast. In addition, this region boasts a workforce that is willing and able to fill the hundreds of new jobs these centers bring in, plus a lower cost of living and doing business than many other regions.
North Central Florida is also drawing interest from manufacturing operations, which are bringing their suppliers to the region in large part because of ready access to roads and rail lines. And with two commercial airports — Gainesville Regional Airport in Alachua County and Ocala International Airport in Marion County — the aviation sector is experiencing a growth spurt, too.
Gainesville/ Alachua County
Aviation Is Active
Long known for its strong ties to agriculture and education, Alachua County has lately experienced a flurry of activity in the aviation sector. Most of the recent developments center on Gainesville Regional Airport, where Eclipse Aviation has established a new regional service center for its manufactured light jets. Here too, Dayjet, Eclipse’s largest customer, is opening its first Southeast DayBase and maintenance facility.
Teaming up for potential
“We were looking for a ‘can-do’ attitude and a community that really wanted us,” says Traver Gruen-Kennedy, vice president of Strategic Operations for DayJet. And that’s just what he and his team found in Gainesville. Despite some aggressive recruiting tactics from communities in other states, including a few very attractive incentives, DayJet officials saw, in Alachua County, the partnership and potential they needed.
DayJet had gone shopping for a location in the Southeast with some very specific requirements in mind — the right terrain, proximity to key populations and target markets, a climate that would not necessitate de-icing of planes and a site within at least 50 miles of a major airport. Alachua County had all of these, and one more key factor that proved irresistible: Eclipse Aviation, DayJet’s main supplier, was also talking to the economic development team in Alachua County about plans to open a Southeastern Service Center at the Gainesville Regional Airport.
“Eclipse played a major role in our expansion,” says Gruen-Kennedy. “This is a great opportunity for both companies. We are their largest customers and we will not have far to go for maintenance of our planes.”
DayJet has nine Eclipse planes ready, at a moment’s notice, to pick up and drop off executives across the state. Suppose, for example, that a CEO in Orlando needs to get to Tallahassee for a meeting. DayJet can quickly coordinate the trip, offering tailor-made services that it hopes will make executives think twice before booking commercial flights in the future.
With its $23-million investment in Alachua County, DayJet will bring 60 new jobs, with average annual wages of around $50,000 per year, a significant increase over the county’s average earnings per worker (AEPW). Eclipse Aviation will employ 100 workers, all of whom will earn above the local AEPW.
Gators Grab Headlines
At UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, Dr. Jeffrey Hillman and his Oragenics Inc. are readying a cavity-prevention compound for market. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Florida’s largest university — the University of Florida in Gainesville — continues to garner worldwide attention, and not just in the sports section. While it’s true that both the Gator football and basketball teams snagged national titles in 2007, the University of Florida is becoming increasingly known for its cutting-edge research.
In 2006, the independent economic think tank Milken Institute ranked the University of Florida among the top five universities in the U.S. and Canada most adept at moving an idea out of the laboratory and into the marketplace as a finished product. And more recently, UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator made news with both a story in Business Week magazine and the number 2 spot in the technology category of the National Business Incubation Association’s “Incubator of the Year” awards.
Logistics and distribution are taking center stage in Columbia County’s economic development efforts. The new Employ Florida Banner Center for Logistics and Distribution, headquartered at Lake City Community College, will offer skills-based training to meet the needs of employers in this rapidly growing sector.
Retail giant Target is locating a cold food storage distribution center just north of Lake City on U.S. 441. The fully automated facility, an $85-million investment and Target’s first company-owned perishable food distribution center, will support Target SuperCenters in Florida and Geogia. Slated to open in August 2008, the 465,000-square-foot operation will bring in 140 jobs, with an average annual wage of $35,000.
High volume, ready access
“Close to 55% of our southeastern volume goes into Florida at this point,” reports Larry Alderfer, CEO of US Cold Storage. So it made good sense for Alderfer and his team to locate one of the company’s five expansion sites in Lake City. Not only does the Columbia County location make for easy distribution throughout Florida, the area’s superb rail and road connections provide exceptional access to several states in the Southeast as well.
The planned 450,000-square-foot USCS distribution center at Lake City will take shape in three construction phases and will eventually employ close to 120 people. Phase I — the first 200,000 square feet — is slated for completion by January 2008; it will mean a $20-million investment and 50 new jobs.
Bradford & Union Counties
Improving and promoting a great quality of life is the focus in Bradford and Union counties, where there is some growth in residential housing as new developments get the green light. In Starke, the Main Street Starke Group is revitalizing the downtown area with the addition of three new restaurants and a bakery. The group also is bringing in large crowds to celebrate Friday Fests, a live band concert and classic car drive-in held the last Friday of each month.
Hamilton & Madison Counties
Hamilton County, which hugs the Florida-Georgia state line, will soon welcome a new manufacturing facility.
“We needed a large tract of land with good rail and highway access and a trained or trainable workforce,” says Mark Falck, vice president of Florida land operations for Maronda Integrated Production Systems, a division of Maronda Homes. The company found both in Hamilton County, where plans are in the works to construct an 85,000-square-foot facility for the manufacture, storage and distribution of roof trusses throughout north Florida and into Georgia.
“We had a defined set of criteria for the site selection process,” says Falck. “Since this will be a pretty sizeable operation, we had to find a large enough piece of property, plus a strong workforce. Hamilton County had both. We look forward to being in Hamilton County.”
Madison County has run water and sewer lines to three interchanges along
I-10, and five miles of parallel road between CR 255 and SR 53 have been constructed with water and sewer services in hopes of attracting new businesses and jobs.
Dixie, Gilchrist & Levy Counties
Setting an Example
High-tech waste management is coming to Dixie County as Dixie Waste Services enters the final stages of permitting for construction of a gasification facility on 19 acres of land. The environmentally clean waste management technique will disintegrate 150 tons of trash per day and employ around 20 workers. And since developers plan to use the Dixie County site as a showcase for larger communities seeking waste disposal alternatives, some additional airport activity is expected, too.
Growing a Workforce
In Levy and Gilchrist counties, nuclear energy is the new topic of conversation. “We have a preferred site selected in Levy County to construct a nuclear power plant,” Progress Energy’s Vice President-North Coastal Region Martha Barnwell told industry and education leaders at the kickoff luncheon for the Power Industry academies being formed to prepare high school students for careers with utilities and energy companies. “We’re excited to plug into these education systems to help ‘grow our own’ employees for the future.”
Lafayette, Suwannee & Taylor Counties
The Business and Industrial Park in Lafayette County is home to three new businesses: BG&P Industries, Bell Cabinet Shop and Marine Diving Supply. Together, they represent close to 40 new jobs for the area.
Suwannee County officials are taking advantage of state funds to improve recreational areas in the county. The communities of Jennings and White Springs received grants of $200,000 each through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) for improvements to local recreation sites.
The undeveloped coastline of Taylor County will soon have a new look. Big Bend Properties, Inc. is in the permitting stage for the development of a condominium complex. The 600-unit development will be constructed along 3,780 acres of Gulf Coast property.
Ocala/ Marion County
Airport Draws Business
Ocala International Airport is the focal site for recent business activity in Marion County. Avionics manufacturer SunAir Electronics LLC is bringing its headquarters to Ocala.
Global connections and workforce clout
“Since about 70% of our business is done internationally, the Free Trade Zone at the Ocala International Airport weighed heavily in our decision to locate here,” says Mark Allen, president/CEO of SunAir Electronics LLC. The firm, which designs, manufactures and distributes state-of-the-art, high-frequency communications systems used for long-range voice and data transmission, needed a new headquarters location in order to reduce business costs and provide a lower cost of living with improved quality of life for its workforce. SunAir executives narrowed their choice to three communities. And since the company had just landed a nearly $2-million contract with the country of Argentina to provide updated communications stations for its air traffic control system, a skilled labor pool was a particularly important consideration. “Marion County rose to the top because of the exhaustive list of technical manufacturers already in the area,” says Allen. “We knew if those companies could maintain a workforce here, there was a strong possibility we could as well.”
The support rendered by the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corporation and the city of Ocala were important factors, too. “We were able to negotiate a very favorable long-term lease with the city of Ocala for the 25,000-square-foot building we needed,” says Allen.
“The EDC brought in their partners with [CLM Workforce Connection] and they’ve done a great job,” he adds. “They placed the ads and handled the initial screenings from a pool of applicants. As a result, we’ve had more qualified candidates than our HR team can sort through, and so far, we’ve had a favorable success rate with our new hires.”
Workforce Education - Plugging Into Power
Faced with the prospect of job vacancies brought on by an aging baby boomer workforce, industry leaders in North Central Florida are partnering with education to “grow their own” employees with a high school curriculum designed specifically to meet employer needs.
The Marion Technical Institute (MTI) opened in Ocala in 2003 with five technical academies, a strong high school academic curriculum and the goal of offering training in the skills that area businesses say they need most. The effort has paid off. Business leaders have been so pleased with the caliber of students coming out of MTI that more industries are jumping on board. As of fall 2006, there were six technical academies: Automotive Technology, Building Construction, Business and Finance, Culinary Arts, Industrial Engineering Technology and Information Technology. In fall 2007, the Power Industry (PI) Academy joins the list.
Progress Energy, Sumter Electric Cooperative (SECO) and Ocala Electric Utility are teaming up to assist with curriculum development, provide adjunct instructors and offer job shadowing and internship opportunities.
Future plans call for the establishment of PI academies in Citrus and Levy counties, too.
• University of Florida
• Central Florida Community College
• North Florida Community College
• Lake City Community College
• Santa Fe Community College
• Gainesville Regional Airport
• Ocala International Airport