Incentives aren't the only key to recruiting companies

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  • | 12:00 p.m. December 9, 2014
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While incentives helped Jacksonville economic developers lure GE Oil & Gas to Northeast Florida this year, other selling points — including site readiness — often are just as critical to a community’s industrial growth.

Indeed, GE Oil & Gas wouldn’t be bringing up to 500 high-paying jobs to Jacksonville if a massive manufacturing facility couldn’t have been completed within seven months, says JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot, who helped spearhead the deal.

Mallot says when Jacksonville leaders learned in April that an undisclosed major manufacturer needed a site where it could open a 500,000-square-foot plant by November, Hillwood Investment Properties already was constructing a massive building at Cecil Commerce Center.

As it turns out, the speculative building not only was an ideal fit for the GE Oil & Gas project — it was a deal-maker, he said.

“Hillwood began construction with no tenant in sight. If that had not had occurred, GE would not be in Jacksonville today,” Mallot said Friday at a JAX USA regional economic development forum on site readiness and regional competitiveness.

JAXUSA Partnership is the economic development arm of the JAX Chamber.

Mallot and three other panelists emphasized that while speculative buildings often aren’t economically feasible, having infrastructure in place and otherwise being prepared to break ground are paramount for industrial and commercial growth.

“You just don’t know when that call is going to come, but I can tell you that the prequalification issue (for the GE project) was a building … that could be finished by November of this year,” Mallot said. “It’s hard to sell a company on a site with just a lot of trees.”

As for incentives, “you don’t necessarily have to have the best deal, but you have to be enough in the game” to compete, he said.

A subsidiary of the Fortune 10 company General Electric Co., GE Oil & Gas announced the advanced manufacturing project in September, shortly after it began advertising for job openings in Jacksonville.

Manufacturing at the $50 million plant, which will produce Becker control valves and Mooney regulators, is slated to begin in early 2015.

Friday’s forum at Jacksonville’s Schultz Center also spotlighted site selection assistance provided by the Jacksonville construction, design and consultancy firm Stellar for a Belgian flooring client that soon will open a manufacturing plant in Cartersville, Ga.

Addressing the topic of regional competitiveness, Stellar Senior Vice President Richard Lovelace advised attendees to be organized and synchronized.

“When the client came in, everyone on the state level, local level, the utility level, and developer worked together. It was very well coordinated,” he said. “When you think about it, it was not just a client coming to Georgia. It was a client coming to the United States from Europe.”

Mallot says it’s challenging for larger communities like Jacksonville, particularly with its massive 19-member City Council, to get all stakeholders on the same page when pursuing a major company.

“The point is that no two deals are alike and they all have only so many variables,” Mallot said.

Also at the forum, an official with the Jacksonville-based Rayonier Inc. discussed the company’s site-readiness strategy at Crawford Diamond Industrial Park in west Nassau County.

A key element of Rayonier’s efforts to make Crawford Diamond marketable has been to enlist the support of a consultant to enable the site to earn the state’s second certified “megasite” designation.

“Certification is about planning for future infrastructure, not speculatively building,” said Mike Bell, Rayonier’s economic development, public affairs and communications vice president. “Nassau County has been great at growing residential communities, but it’s been less great at growing jobs.”

The site was approved in 2013 for up to 10.5 million square feet of development for manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and distribution, and an intermodal logistics center.