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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 9, 202005:20 AM EST

Five visionaries: Industry leaders to offer their insights

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Strategy will define success in the new decade. We asked five industry leaders to offer their insights into market trends that might help business owners and executives sharpen their plans.
Brian Wolfburg

FINANCIAL

Brian Wolfburg

Wolfburg, 42, became president and CEO of VyStar Credit Union on Oct. 31, 2017, and soon expanded the member base and bought an office tower to create a Downtown campus.

As with all industries, technology will force changes in financial services. VyStar will shift to a “branch-lite” blend of brick-and-mortar offices and online digital.

It also will build-out branches across Florida’s major markets, pursue mergers and acquisitions and move into new markets, probably including Georgia. At $9.2 billion in assets, it’s the largest credit union based in Northeast Florida and 15th largest in the country.

“You’re going to see organizations get larger and gain scale,” he said, “so that they can afford to do the things that the public demands of their financial institution.”

That produces efficiencies that allow them to pay favorable rates on deposits; keep down loan rates and fees; and earn enough to invest in technology and employees. 

VyStar is moving 1,000 employees Downtown to the VyStar Tower it bought in July 2018 and into an adjacent office building it is rehabbing. The $125 million investment is less expensive than building a new similar-size campus, he says.

Wolfburg thinks the project could influence more investment in Downtown projects. 

VyStar also paid to sponsor the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

 “I’m hopeful that in 10 years the skyline looks different. It won’t look like a totally different city, but in a healthy, nice, steady trajectory, the city will continue to get better and continue to develop,” he said.

Wolfburg sees momentum in the Northeast Florida economy.

 “I think the region is well positioned to have a good next five, 10, 15 years.”

Matthew Bridgewater

MANUFACTURING

Matthew Bridgewater

Bridgewater, 48, is president and CEO of GEM Products Inc., a manufacturer of stainless steel marine and hardware supplies sold to boat and yacht builders. He’s been with the family-owned business for 25 years.

GEM Products Inc. in South Jacksonville is preparing for a second expansion of 40,000 square feet, meaning “everything is going well in the marine industry, which is a good indicator for the overall economy.”

Boats are a discretionary purchase, like jewelry. “We follow the jewelry market, and the jewelry market is strong.”

Jacksonville’s continued growth, especially migration from the Northeast, provides a labor pool for employers. The area’s seasonal changes and “tons of water and beaches” represents “the real Florida” but without the large population of South Florida.

Technology will drive business. “I definitely see the technology curve is going to exponentially increase,” he said, especially 3D printing, like Bridgewater is starting to use in metal to produce cleats.

“That presents incredible opportunities for all companies.”

Social media becomes more important for brand identity and business. “We posted job ads on our Facebook and Instagram and we were able to fill those jobs within a week.” Websites benefit from quick videos, such as GEM’s how-to posts.

“That’s what the consumer wants,” he said, “less than 60 seconds.”

It also helps for companies seeking employees to be aware of their reputation. “You’ve got to have that cool appeal,” he said. “People want to work in an environment that is built around something they love.”

Lori Boyer

DOWNTOWN

Lori Boyer

Boyer, 65, became CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority on July 1, 2019 after eight years serving on Jacksonville City Council, including a year as president.

Downtown Jacksonville could see some of its biggest changes since the Great Fire of 1901 if plans play out over the next decade and beyond.

That depends on population growth, city and private investment and a continued strong economy.

Assuming all that, Boyer sees possibilities that include 12,000 residents in five years that lead to an urban core grocery store and other retail projects that create momentum; progress on the Emerald Trail; Hogan Street and Laura Street corridors of restaurants and entertainment; riverfront development that includes the Landing and The Ford on Bay sites; the Lot J and Shipyards developments that include demolition of the Hart Bridge ramp; residential development in the Cathedral District; a potential medical innovation or education campus at the First Baptist land that is for sale and-or at the convention center site in LaVilla; redevelopment of the Berkman II; possible changes at the Duval County Jail and Maxwell House sites; construction of the Fidelity National Information Services Inc. campus along Riverside Avenue; and Southbank projects that include The District. There’s also the continuing talk about a new convention center.

Another goal: Downtown restaurants remain open until at least 9 p.m.

Lisa Palmer

RETAIL

Lisa Palmer

Palmer, who turns 52 this month, became CEO of Regency Centers Corp. on Jan. 1 and remains president of the real estate investment trust that owns shopping centers nationwide.

Technology, data analytics, artificial intelligence, online ordering and autonomous vehicles will change how consumers shop and goods are delivered, but one aspect won’t: the social experience.

“You could sit on your couch today and do everything that you need to do. You don’t have to leave your house, but people want to leave. There’s a social element to it,” Palmer said.

Retailers that survive will adapt to the changing environment led by technology and shifting demographics, such as today’s teenagers becoming the new decade’s young professionals.

Every successful retailer, whether it be a provider of goods or services, including restaurants, banks, personal care and fitness centers, will need to adapt. 

In Northeast Florida, St. Johns Town Center remains the center of gravity in the retail industry. The traffic congestion is considered a sign of success.

Palmer predicts a second large area lifestyle center in the southern part of the metro area, where population growth is strong.

At the same time, as the population increases, people will look for a place to live, work and play in a contained area. That can lead to revival of neighborhoods, especially those near Downtown.

Jim Stallings

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Jim Stallings

Stallings, 64, launched PS27 Ventures in 2012 to invest in innovations in the wellness and sustainable living market after he worked almost 30 years in corporate leadership roles with IBM and other large companies. 

Jacksonville’s geographic size is a challenge and an opportunity, especially for entrepreneurs and startup companies.

Its large footprint with a complex infrastructure of bridges and roads means it must embrace its ability to become a smart city. That will lead to startups and solutions, like autonomous vehicles and smart grids, to head off problems and challenges.

It sits at a critical junction of the ocean and the interstate system.

The city will put up big population growth numbers in 10 years, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs in the life sciences industry as Jacksonville’s demographics change, including an aging population.

“There is no question we have a blessing of a strong economy. The windfall of people relocating from the Northeast and West will continue.”

Jacksonville’s extensive health care network will attract people to relocate, creating a need for hospitality and other services.

And as executives retire, they will start up companies.

“All of that talent is here to stay and fuel and fund these big opportunities that are coming and it’s going to lay right on the back of a strong economy.”

 

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