Vision Care eyes $301M expansion, seeking $99M in city, state incentives

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Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. proposes a $301 million expansion and 100 new jobs in Jacksonville in exchange for almost $98.6 million in city and state incentives.

The state would contribute a $1 million High Impact Performance Incentive contribution and up to $150,000, or $1,000 per employee, for Quick Response Training.

In addition, the state proposes a tax credit of 5 percent of Vision Care’s total capital investment over 20 years, estimated to be $90.3 million, toward any state corporate income tax liability.

The city filed legislation (2015-332) Wednesday requesting City Council to support a $7.1 million Recapture Enhanced Value grant to be paid after the expansion is completed by yearend 2018 and the project is on the tax rolls. The legislation would be introduced to council Tuesday.

Jacksonville-based Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, formerly referred to as Vistakon, proposes to add 100 full-time jobs by yearend 2017 that pay an average $60,000 a year, plus $30,000 each in benefits.

New jobs include technician positions, research and development specialists, high-speed machine operators, administrative support and back-office personnel.

The plant, which makes 1.7 billion disposable contact lenses a year, occupies almost 69 acres at 7500 Centurion Parkway in Deerwood Park.

The campus includes corporate offices, a research and development laboratory, manufacturing and distribution as well as The Vision Care Institute.

In a news release, Mayor Alvin Brown said the project “shows continued confidence in our city’s growing market position as a destination for advanced manufacturing.”

JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot called the project “a huge win for our region.”

The city considers the project a win because it is an expansion of medical manufacturing and an international corporate headquarters, which are targeted industries.

The project follows a similar expansion announced last year when Vision Care pledged to invest $218 million to make the latest generation of Acuvue contact lenses.

In return, the city and state approved more than $8.6 million in city and state incentives for the company to create up to 100 jobs at an average wage of $65,000 plus benefits.

According to a city project summary, the new 35,000-square-foot expansion would accommodate two more production lines as well as a Center of Excellence for medical devices and a Center of Excellence for 3D technologies and materials.

In addition, Vision Care would form an alliance with the University of North Florida to help develop the Center of Excellence for 3D printing. It already has helped to establish the Academy for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering at Englewood High School, where more than 50 students are mentored each year by the company and considered for jobs.

The $301 million expansion comprises $25 million for construction, $246 million for manufacturing equipment and $30 million in research and development equipment.

The city’s REV grant would pay half of the incremental increase in property taxes generated by the improvements for six years and up to 25 percent in the seventh year.

Vision Care’s 3,400 global employees include 2,000 workers in Jacksonville. The economic development agreement specifies it has 1,972 permanent jobs.

Referred to as the confidential “Project Launch,” the summary says parent company Johnson & Johnson was considering “a set of complex expansion opportunities” at either its facility in Jacksonville or in Limerick, Ireland.

It cited “fierce competition” among the two facilities. “All parties involved locally needed to be aggressive when formulating their financial case for the expansion opportunities to happen in Jacksonville,” it said.

Part of that process for Vision Care was to hire designers and engineers to “cost engineer” the proposed expansion and to work with UNF and others on the Center of Excellence initiatives.

The city and state worked with the company to determine the financial assistance needed for Jacksonville to land the project, the summary said.

The summary said if the city and state approved the incentives, Vision Care will expand in Jacksonville rather than Ireland. It estimates the expansion will generate $44.7 million in ad valorem taxes from 2015-34, including $22.1 million during the seven-year REV grant payout.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. recently filed plans with the city for the 35,000-square-foot “Phase 7,” a little larger than last year’s “Phase 6,” which should be completed soon.

For Phase 6, council approved a $6.9 million REV grant. State assistance comprised a $1.5 million Quick Action Closing Fund contribution and $225,000 in workforce training.

Gilbane Building is listed as the contractor and Flad Architects of Tampa is the architect.

Those plans also show the phases of how the plant, which was first developed in 1993, has added manufacturing, offices, distribution center space and research and development functions over the years.

The company is one of the area’s largest manufacturing employers and plants. It occupies more than 836,000 square feet of space. The proposed project boosts that to almost 871,000 square feet of space.

Johnson & Johnson bought Frontier Contact Lenses in Jacksonville in 1981 and renamed it Vistakon.

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