Saft America President Tom Alcide, running one of Jacksonville’s newest international manufacturing plants, had a question about power and dealing with JEA.
He called the one guy in Jacksonville he knew could help.
“I said, ‘Where do I turn to get answers?’ He said, ‘Let me call you back,’” Alcide recalled.
The next day, Mallot called. He set up an immediate lunch with Alcide and executives of JEA, the electric and water utility for the city, at The River Club Downtown. Alcide’s questions were answered.
“That’s the kind of dealings you had with Jerry,” Alcide said.
Alcide, whose plant makes lithium ion batteries, said there are two types of guys with connections.
There’s the guy who knows people and gives you names and then there’s the guy who has real connections.
“Jerry is that second guy,” Alcide said. “People respect him and what he is doing.”
Mallot is executive vice president of the JAX Chamber and president of its JAXUSA Partnership economic-development division.
He turns 67 today, on New Year’s Eve. He celebrates 21 years at the chamber tomorrow, New Year’s Day. He doesn’t intend to retire anytime soon because he’s having too much fun.
Fun doing what he’s been doing for two decades — negotiating deals, creating jobs, making connections.
Connections are key
As the chamber’s lead economic-development negotiator, Mallot and his team recruit companies to Northeast Florida and they work with existing businesses to stay and expand.
“I see my role somewhat like a quarterback,” he said.
Mallot considers himself a catalyst and an “influencer,” making sure the seven counties in the JAXUSA Partnership are in the game when it comes to making deals.
He works on the private side of the equation, looking into the resources that match the needs of a company, and then works with prospects and local government officials to navigate the public side of taxpayer incentives or other government assistance.
Making those connections.
“I do appreciate the fact it’s easy for me to reach out to people.”
And he has the drive.
“I’m very success-oriented and I’m very competitive,” he said, also crediting his team at the chamber.
By all accounts, he’s good at it.
“There’s no obstacle that he thinks is insurmountable,” said former Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Executive Director Kirk Wendland, now director of business development at Stellar.
“When a client says, ‘I have to have this road, this permit,’ there would be 10 of us sitting there and shaking our heads. Jerry will say, ‘Sure we can do it, no problem,’” Wendland said.
“What I love about him is his optimism. No hurdle is too high,” said Wendland, also a past president of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
Not that every deal got done.
Mallot recalls the Daimler Chrysler plant that bypassed Westside’s Cecil Commerce Center for a site in Savannah, but later ended up scuttling the project.
Jacksonville made it to the final three, he said, but lost the plant because there was no major interchange there.
That led to work with city and state leaders for the now-completed Interstate 10 interchange leading into Cecil, which became the start of the outer beltway, he said.
That, Mallot said, eventually led to Saft, the Bridgestone distribution center, FedEx Ground Package System Inc. and GE Oil & Gas.
The First Coast Expressway is expected to open up economic development in western Duval County and Clay and St. Johns counties.
Not every deal was easy. Mallot acknowledges occasionally people can be difficult to deal with. “I work toward their style rather than expect them to work toward mine,” he said.
John Delaney knows how Mallot works. They’ve worked together on high-level deals for most of Mallot’s career in Jacksonville.
Prospects and economic developers might have differing views, needs and goals in a deal.
“Jerry is kind of a savant in reading the body language and knowing what it is going to take to make a deal work,” he said.
Delaney said Mallot inspires trust.
“I’ve never had to question anything he’s ever told me,” said Delaney, who served as mayor from 1995-2003 and before that was general counsel and then chief of staff for former Mayor Ed Austin’s one term.
“Sometimes in salesmen there’s an element of con. There’s no con in Jerry,” Delaney said.
Delaney is the president of the University of North Florida, but also served as the JAXUSA Partnership volunteer chair in 2013 and in 2015 steps up to chair the JAX Chamber. That will be another year of closely working with Mallot.
Creating a comfort zone
Delaney recalls when he was mayor during a strong economy, he limited taxpayer incentives to north and west of the St. Johns River, an area that he said needed an economic uplift.
America Online Inc. had been operating in North Jacksonville at the Imeson International Industrial Park, but wanted to move to a site near UNF on the Southside, in the First Coast Technology Park.
It wanted city incentives, which Delaney refused.
Mallot and former JAX Chamber President Wally Lee pushed back, but Delaney didn’t bend.
How did Mallot react? “He was a gentleman,” Delaney said.
AOL received no city incentives when it made the move, but benefited from a state road fund that was sought for another business in the tech park.
Ironically, AOL ended up closing the center and UNF now owns the building.
Jeanne Miller, executive director of the Jacksonville Civic Council, is another connection to Mallot. Miller worked at the JEDC, including a brief time as interim executive director, and then as general counsel at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
One of the deals was for Flightstar, an aircraft maintenance and repair company, to expand at the Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s Cecil Airport with a paint hangar that brought FSCJ students onboard.
“That deal fell apart more times than I can say over a five-year period,” Miller said.
Miller said it was a complicated negotiation because it required several separate deals to execute on the larger vision, including negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration, the JAA, the Florida Department of Education, the Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees and Flightstar.
She said the deal “has resulted in the state’s largest aviation ‘laboratory’ and allowed FlightStar to add at least 400 new jobs – and many FSCJ students were hired by Flightstar.”
Miller said Mallot and his team helped create the vision that made the deal work.
She said Mallot helped Flightstar with negotiations with the state for incentives and also helped to ensure a smooth transition between former JAA CEO John Clark and current CEO Steve Grossman.
When there were questions about the public purpose and economic development impact of the project from the FSCJ and JAA boards and state legislative committees appropriating the funds, Mallot could help articulate the importance and relevance to each group.
Miller said Mallot “leads by doing, and he is one of the most humble leaders I know and through his humility he is incredibly effective.”
Recognized not only in Jacksonville but nationally among site consultants and clients, she said he combines integrity and tenacity.
She calls him “the steady soul.”
When companies have walked away from a potential deal, she believes they came back because they trusted Mallot.
Best face forward
Ask Mallot his most memorable deals, and he first says, “when we get the ‘yes.’”
Asked again, and he names Fortune 500 Fidelity National Financial Corp.’s 2003 decision to move its headquarters to Jacksonville from California.
He also lists Saft, Pilot Pen Corp., Coach, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, GE Oil & Gas and continues.
“It is exciting to drive down major roads and see new or expanded companies that I played a role in,” he said.
Delaney, Miller, Wendland and Mayor Alvin Brown list other major deals that used Mallot’s guidance, including the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point; retaining the Bi-Lo Holdings LLC’s headquarters after Bi-Lo bought Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.; and Apex Technology remaining in Jacksonville and developing a new corporate headquarters.
“Pretty much every economic deal ran through Jerry,” Delaney said.
Alcide said Saft had narrowed its search from 16-17 locations along the East Coast to four or five and Jacksonville wasn’t on the radar. An employee who knew former Mayor John Peyton suggested Saft consider Jacksonville, which brought Mallot into the picture.
“At that point, they became the leading city very quickly,” said Alcide.
He said Mallot never made outlandish promises during discussions.
“He probably is a big part of why we chose Jacksonville. Among many other things, he was the best face Jacksonville could have put forward.”
Saft, pledging almost 280 jobs by year-end 2016 averaging almost $45,000 a year exclusive of benefits, opened its $200 million plant in 2011. It had hired 203 employees as of Monday.
It was awarded city and state incentives of $20.2 million, of which the city is responsible for $5.3 million. It also received a $95.5 million federal grant.
‘He doesn’t like to wait’
Brown, who took office July 1, 2011, tapped Mallot as an executive-on-loan for $1 a year to, among other tasks, recommend economic-development strategies.
The work in Brown’s first 18 months led to the conversion of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission into the independent Downtown Investment Authority and the mayor’s Office of Economic Development.
“He really helped me lay a strong foundation for my vision for making sure Jacksonville was open for business, not just domestically but abroad,” Brown said.
The mayor said Mallot made sure the city, JAX Chamber and JAXUSA Partnership had a strong relationship.
“He is very focused on the nuts and bolts and strategy – who should be here, how do we get this one,” Brown said.
Mallot doesn’t waste time, either, according to Brown.
“Jerry doesn’t like to wait. He wants things moving,” he said.
Brown credits Mallot for ongoing success in bringing the area’s top CEOs together to tell site consultants and corporate prospects why they would be successful in Jacksonville.
“He is very good at making our case,” he said.
From there to here
After Lee decided to retire from the chamber, the group’s leaders approached Mallot about taking on the presidency. He said no.
He had just turned 65 and figured it was time for the chamber to find somebody who could take the job for five or 10 years.
Instead, Mallot served as interim president for six months until state Rep. Daniel Davis, 40, took the job in July 2013.
“Economic development was at my core,” explained Mallot, who has led the efforts since the time he arrived in Jacksonville.
He’s been a professional economic developer for almost 45 years, with his competitive edge sharpened as a child.
Mallot, the baby in a family of five, grew up in Wichita, Kan., the son of an insurance salesman and back-office bank manager. He had three older brothers and a sister.
Spoiled? Just the opposite.
“They picked on me, which made me competitive,” he said.
At 6-foot-2, Mallot also was the shortest of the brothers. “I always thought of myself as some sort of runt because I was the smallest.”
In college at Wichita State University, he met Janet Stover, whom he married and they had three sons.
He joined the Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce in 1970, staying 17 years and spending the last four as president.
After five years with a private venture capital firm, he and Janet were headed toward Boulder, Colo., when a recruiter called about an economic-development job in Tampa. He moved to Florida in 1992, becoming senior vice president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the first executive director of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Word about him soon circulated, considering one of his projects was an 800-job Sprint call center.
Soon came another call, this time for the JAX Chamber economic-development job. The recruiter told Mallot he was on the short list. Mallot countered he didn’t want to be on the list. Yet he met with a group of chamber leaders for “a very soft sell.”
Nov. 30, 1993, sealed that deal. That’s when the NFL announced Jacksonville won an NFL expansion franchise, the Jaguars, considered one of the biggest economic-development deals of the city’s history.
“I called my wife and said pack your bags,” he said.
They moved to town, where Mallot also honed his skills in community service, including as president of the influential Leadership Jacksonville in 2012.
Janet unexpectedly died Jan. 16, 2013, after which Mallot took some time to travel.
One day last year, he was planning to sky-dive with city Office of Economic Development Executive Director Ted Carter.
Carter couldn’t go, so Mallot asked Sarah Patent, who was Brown’s assistant. They had met during Mallot’s term as an executive on loan.
She said yes and they threw caution to the wind.
Now they’re clearly an item.
“As hard as it was to lose Janet, my life has changed a lot since I met Sarah Patent,” Mallot said. “It has been an awakening experience to have a new relationship at my age. Of course, I still think I’m 35.”
His plans include perhaps retiring at 70, maybe. While he has been recruited for other economic development jobs, he didn’t bite.
“Coming to Jacksonville was one of my best decisions.”