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Florida's Vibrant Economy

22 Nov, 2013

By Rachel Hamilton

If you need a reason to move to Florida besides the ocean air, you could come for what Gray Swoope, Florida’s secretary of commerce, and president and CEO of Enterprise Florida Inc., calls, “an impressive, vibrant economy.”

That vibrancy is due at least in part to dedication from economic development officials. Jerry Mallot, president of the JAXUSA Partnership in Jacksonville says, “The governor [Rick Scott] has been making a big difference. We have a new mayor. He has made economic development a high priority, and we’ve completed twenty-two new projects in Jacksonville, creating over 3,200 new jobs.”

Gina Reynolds, CEO of Florida’s Heartland REDI Inc. also endorses the governor, saying, “Our governor is fantastic. He’s the chief economic developer for Florida and he gets it. […] Our state is business-friendly.”

Helene Caseltine, economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce on the east coast of Florida can attest to even smaller, local-level governments being onboard when it comes to economic growth in the state, and says, “We’re open for business. Our elected officials are here to roll out the red carpet.”

That “red carpet” includes statewide tax cuts, and the elimination of what Swoope called, “job-killing regulations.” Swoope also adds that, “Not only are we cutting taxes, but we are dealing with a budget surplus.” That’s a combination that Swoope says reassures businesses that they won’t be the targets of future taxes.

It also allows for investments in statewide infrastructure, such as the $250 million that Swoope says Florida will invest in the “specific needs” of their 15 deep-water seaports in preparation for the opening of the expanded lock lanes of the Panama Canal.

Industries and Innovations

One of the tax cuts in Florida was the elimination of the sales tax for purchasing manufacturing equipment, which is only helping the state’s advanced manufacturing sector.

Statewide, Florida has targeted eight sectors for growth, and the ones growing the most are aviation/aerospace and financial. “Across sectors, advanced manufacturing is well over 50 percent of what we’re doing,” Swoope says. “Some is medical, some is aviation, but altogether, it’s advanced manufacturing.”

The aerospace industry is thriving in Florida’s Space Coast region, home to the now concluded U.S. Space Shuttle Program. The Space Coast encompasses Brevard County, which is home to assets such as the Kennedy Space Center, Port Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base; and communities such as Titusville, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, and Palm Bay, among others. When the Space Shuttle Program ended a few years ago the region found itself with an abundance of assets and skilled talent.

Officials at the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast joined with state and local partners as the wind-down took place in order to make the most of the region’s expertise and capacity in the aerospace sector, and to ensure industry diversity would continue to grow. “Our economy is recovering from the end of the Space Shuttle Program and the 8,000 or so jobs that went with it, as well as the Great Recession, and my organization has been at the front of the efforts to diversify and strengthen our economy,” says Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO, Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. The expansion of the economy includes companies from a variety of industries, from aviation and aerospace to shipbuilding to firearms manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing.

The EDC’s push for industry diversity has been instrumental in blunting the impact of the shuttle retirement. More than 4,921 jobs were created in the county of 543,000 residents from 2010 to September 30, 2012.

While several corporate investments have been made in the past couple of years, nine major announcements have been made this year, led by Northrop Grumman’s plans to build a Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence in Melbourne. The competitive project will mean 1,000 net new jobs, including hundreds of engineering positions. The company will invest more than $61 million in real estate, construction and equipment.

There is also a renewed commercial emphasis at Kennedy Space Center. BRS Aerospace will open an R&D operation for the global market at a former shuttle facility. United Paradyne Corp. has returned to the space center, where it once served as a propellant subcontractor.

Brevard County is home to firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Embraer, and has seen an expansion in its international firms, with projects such as Lyon, France-based Vision Systems, a tier I supplier for the aeronautics, marine and auto industries. The company has selected the Space Coast for its first U.S. subsidiary. What’s more, Brazilian supplier Archo Solutions Engineering USA has announced plans to open its first U. S. subsidiary on the Space Coast.

In other expansion activity in the state, “We in Martin County are seeing a cluster strategy — aviation, aerospace, marine life science, and several others,” says Tim Dougher, executive director of the Business Development Board of Martin County. The county’s increasingly aggressive recruitment strategy is also attracting IT companies and includes, “a coastal area, designated as an enterprise zone, which allows companies to relocate and expand and take advantage of different tax incentives,” Dougher says.

In Jacksonville, where unemployment rates are down to 6.7 percent, Mallot says, they have seen fast growth in financial services and aviation/aerospace industry, including Flight Star and Embraer.

Mallot was also pleased to say that after vying with cities in Ireland and Asia, Jacksonville has been chosen as the site of an advanced manufacturing plant for Vistakon, the largest manufacturers of contact lenses in the world.

In Indian River County, Caseltine says aviation manufacturing has been a large private employer for decades and that they are seeing an “increase in interest in information tech and alternative energy like waste ethanol.”

Talent and Education

Swoope is proud of the statewide program for training workers, saying, “Workforce Florida is one of the top workforce training programs in the country.” The partnerships between Workforce Florida, local universities and colleges, and even top-notch high school programs are a large part of “the pipeline for talent” that Swoope says gets highly trained workers into jobs as quickly as possible.

Caseltine was able to attest to that speed when working with Indian River State College saying, “They put together training programs to support industry in weeks. Not months or years, but within weeks. They’re a great partner.” Dougher also complimented the relationship between Martin County’s chamber and the Indian River campus in their county, saying, “We partner with them a lot. They also partner with our local companies.”

In the Heartland, they’re also partnering with local universities to tightly align the needs of industry with the focus of education. Reynolds says, “Businesses want to have a workforce not just for today, but five, 10, 20 years down the road. We are training our up-and-coming workers and current workers in the very industries we’re recruiting.”

Jacksonville also reaps the benefits of partnering with local universities and Workforce Florida. Mallot says they were all “aimed at meeting needs of business growth.”

Down to Business

  • Florida has 15 deep-water ports and plans to invest $150 million in seaport improvements tailored to each port’s needs.

  • Qualified businesses that create employment within zones designated for revitalization can receive tax incentives for Florida’s Enterprise Zone Program, which include sales and use tax.

  • Florida’s Quick Response Training (QRT) assists new or expanding businesses to partner with educational entities, from school districts to universities, to quickly train a workforce. Some costs of the training can qualify for reimbursement, including instructor/trainer wages.

  • Preapproved applicants in certain high-impact sectors may qualify for Florida’s High Impact Performance Incentive, which is a negotiated grant targeting clean energy, corporate headquarters, financial services, life sciences, semiconductors and transportation equipment manufacturing.

Assets

The state has 15 deep-water ports, commercial airports, rail transport, and an interstate highway system that Swoope says is, “second to none.” He also says that these transportation assets mean that “Florida is truly a gateway to international trade.” Brevard County is home to the world’s only quadramodal hub — air, land, space and sea. The area features dozens of developable greenfield sites, as well as an inventory of commercial and industrial buildings.

Florida is also a gateway to international fiber optic Internet networks. “Something that’s going to give [Jacksonville and Florida] a boost is we have new fiber optic cables that are being constructed right now, one coming up from Miami, and two more that have landed at Jacksonville Beach from Europe and South America,” Mallot says. He anticipates that this will drastically increase Jacksonville’s “ability to host companies that need lots of bandwidth.”

The state can also boast a host of industrial parks and areas fit for expansion, including Indian River County, which has about 2,000 acres set aside for industrial growth, much of which Caseltine says was, “shovel ready,” with utilities in tact and near to two international airports, St. Lucie County International and Melbourne International.

Indian River County is also a hub for distribution centers in the state, which Caseltine says is due to it being “within three hours of 90 percent of Florida’s population.”

Indian town in Martin County includes Florida Power & Light’s first hybrid solar plant, which Dougher says was “a $1 billion investment,” and which is already hooked up to a fiber optic Internet network. Martin County also has Florida’s “only cross-state waterway,” Dougher adds. “You can get to the Atlantic or to the Gulf through us.”

Jacksonville has large amounts of land available. Mallot says, “With 840 square miles here, we have excellent sites for growth and business. Cecil Commerce Center is the largest industrial park in Florida.” CCC has 27 square miles of property, divided into developable land and green space. “It makes for outstanding options for manufacturing and aviation. It has a two-mile long runway, the east side of which has been opened by the airport authority,” Mallot says. “You can develop adjacent to the runway if needed.”

The Heartland also has a pretty impressive industrial park, Americas Gateway Logistics Center, which is multi-modal, integrated, and Reynolds says now covers 6,700 acres. What sets the AGLC apart is access to seven deepwater ports, two foreign trade zones, Southwest Florida International Airport, and the Heartland’s complete coverage of wireless broadband Internet. “We’re a perfect location to serve domestic and international markets,” Reynolds says.

Outdoors and Recreation

Florida has more warm water coastline than any other state in the United States, and an array of amazing beaches. Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville boasts the usual fishing, boating, sunbathing and outdoor activities found at most beaches, but also includes “primitive” camping on Dutton Island, where campers can enjoy the nature preserve with no electricity or piped water, but with a rare, pristine natural environment.

Lifestyle

Florida’s climate and proximity to warm saltwater make it an excellent place to live.

Caseltine says, “Indian River’s lagoon is a big part of our economy and we’re a tourist destination. Paddle boarding, kayaking, bass fishing, deep-water fishing — any type of outdoor lifestyle is big because you can do it year round.”

The northern part of Florida where Jacksonville is located appeals to Mallot the most. “We get 4 seasons without snow,” he says, “We’re the headquarters for the PGA tour, we host the Player’s Championship; we have really special places nearby like Amelia Island and St. Augustine.”

Dougher explained that Martin County has “plenty of shopping, restaurants, and a lot of water” with a “very business-friendly” downtown in Stuart.

Besides outdoor recreation, Florida also offers some excellent hospitals. The Heartland has the best hospital in Florida, however, at least according to U.S. News and World Report. Reynolds says, “Florida Hospital does a really good job providing a range of medical services that you wouldn’t expect in rural areas.”

Florida is known as a tourist destination, but Swoope says, “Come for the beaches, stay for the businesses. The amenities support a very quality lifestyle and a strong business climate that is equally as impressive.”