Area economy 'victim of our own success'

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JAXUSA Partnership’s seven member counties shared some similar views Tuesday about challenges to regional economic development.

Infrastructure, building inventory and workforce availability led the list, although several economic developers indicated those are good problems to have.

The recruiters provided a regional update to more than 90 members and guests of CREW Jacksonville at a meeting at The River Club Downtown.

The panel was moderated by Cathy Chambers, JAXUSA senior vice president of strategy and business development.

Ed Randolph, director of business development for the Jacksonville Office of Economic Development, said the area was “a victim of our own success.”

In Duval County, the largest of the seven JAXUSA members in terms of population and employment, Randolph said challenges include a lack of available space for niche corporate users and the lack of large blocks of Class A office space.

In Putnam County, workforce availability and a relatively low unemployment rate means a wider regional look for staffing for large companies, said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development at the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.

Around the area, the panelists said infrastructure, including transportation, needs to keep pace with development needs.

Laura DiBella, executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board, said if the port of Jacksonville is not dredged, the area won’t remain competitive.

At the same time, infrastructure development also made the list of county successes.

Bill Garrison, president of Clay County Economic Development Corp., said the First Coast Expressway will change Clay County and its opportunities for development.

When completed, the roadway will connect Interstate 95 to I-10 and already is leading to development in the Branan Field and Oakleaf areas.

It’s not every day, Garrison said, that an interstate is built through your county. “It’s changing all of Clay County,” he said.

Bergen said Putnam County can be accessed by air, rail, land and water.

“Infrastructure is probably one of our strong suits,” he said.

Randolph said Duval’s attributes include infrastructure, the tax structure and the pool of qualified employees enhanced each year with 3,000 skilled military retirees.

Flagler and St. Johns counties said growth at their regional airports were bringing in visitors as well as sparking development nearby.

Helga van Eckert, executive director of the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity, and Crawford Powell, a consultant for Baker County economic development, said those counties are focused on economic development and working with JAXUSA.

Van Eckert said creating partnerships with JAXUSA was beneficial.

St. Johns County, meanwhile, continues as one of the area’s fastest-growing counties with a top-ranked public school system and a national reputation for tourism and quality of life.

“Everything continues to remain strong,” said Melissa Glasgow, director of St. Johns County Economic Development.

DiBella said Nassau County has “gone gangbusters” in the two years since CREW last held a regional update.

She and other panelists noted the jobs and investment announcements in recent years as the nation continues recovering from the 2007-09 Great Recession.

In Duval County, Randolph summarized jobs and developments announced by Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young, Macquarie Group,, UPS and Ikea, to name a few.

“The problem now is keeping the momentum up,” he said.

JAXUSA Partnership counties


State population rank: No. 52

2016 population: 29,965

Decrease from 2010: 0.6 percent

December unemployment rate: 4.4 percent


State population rank: No. 25

2016 population: 205,321

Increase from 2010: 7.6 percent

December unemployment rate: 4.2 percent


State population rank: No. 7

2016 population: 923,647

Increase from 2010: 6.9 percent

December unemployment rate: 4.7 percent


State population rank: No. 37

2016 population: 77,841

Increase from 2010: 6.2 percent

December unemployment rate: 4.3 percent


State population rank: No. 39

2016 population: 72,972

Decrease from 2010: 1.9 percent

December unemployment rate: 5.6 percent

St. Johns

State population rank: No. 24

2016 population: 220,257

Increase from 2010: 15.9 percent

December unemployment rate: 3.6 percent

Source: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

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