Labor force is biggest draw for recruiting

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2014
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By Carole Hawkins, Staff Writer

When a big corporation relocates or expands in Jacksonville, it often brings high-wage jobs and new families shopping for homes.

Right now there are 39 such deals in the pipeline for Jacksonville, said Broderick Green, director of Business Development for JAXUSA Partnership, JAX Chamber’s economic development arm.

Who those deals are with, he wouldn’t say. But Green did talk about what top companies see in Northeast Florida and why they move here.

One big reveal — quality of life has not historically made the Top 10 list of questions companies ask.

“We always have to remember they are making business decisions,” said Green, speaking at a recent Northeast Florida Builders Association Sales and Marketing Council’s breakfast. “As much as we think that beaches and great golf and great weather are going to sell them, they are making multimillion-dollar decisions.”

The question asked most: “What is your labor force like?” That’s because companies no longer relocate large numbers of employees. Instead, Green said, they move a core group and then recruit local talent.

“So, if you don’t answer that question well … the rest of the conversation pretty much goes dead,” he said.

Also, tax breaks don’t rank highly. “No amount of government incentives is going to make a bad location look good,” Green said. “You have to have everything else right.”

Incentives become a differentiator, though, when multiple communities can reasonably land a deal and are in the final stages of competition with one another, he said.

So what is it about Jacksonville that gets the attention of corporate site selectors?

• Jacksonville’s economy is more diverse than other Florida cities; it is not as dependent on tourism.

• The median age is 38, tracking close to the U.S. average of 37, which means Jacksonville is not a retirement community.

• Former military servicemen are a significant part of the workforce, a group from which companies like to hire.

• Jacksonville is the largest consolidated government in Florida, which means there is a large geographic area with only one set of rules to follow.

• Jacksonville’s location as the westernmost point on the East Coast places it closer to consumer markets. Also its proximity to three major interstates — Interstates 10, 75 and 95 — connect it to the Midwest, California and the entire East Coast corridor.

Those assets have earned Jacksonville an impressive success rate, he said. The city has more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other location in Florida, Green said.

“When they see this list (of corporate headquarters), that’s the quiet moment,” he said. “They say, ‘OK you’ve got golf, you’ve got great beaches, but who really does business here?’ And then they see this.”