Potential cut of Enterprise Florida concerns JAXUSA

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Speaking Thursday to a group whose focus is corporate growth, a key executive said the JAXUSA Partnership receives about a quarter of its economic-development referrals from Enterprise Florida.

The fact that the Florida House is considering elimination of the statewide economic-development agency and taxpayer incentives sparks worry.

“We’re watching this one. We’re concerned,” Aaron Bowman, JAXUSA senior vice president of business development and a City Council member, told the Association for Corporate Growth North Florida chapter.

Bowman, who provided a broad look at Northeast Florida economic development at the lunch meeting at The River Club Downtown, talked about Enterprise Florida in the context of recruiting Amazon.com.

The company announced in July it would build a 1,500-job fulfillment center in Northwest Jacksonville, considered the single largest jobs announcement in Jacksonville’s history.

In January, it announced an additional 1,200-job center in West Jacksonville at Cecil Commerce Center.

Bowman said it was a year ago that JAXUSA, the chamber’s economic-development division, took a call from a development company out of Atlanta. The group wanted to talk about a facility that might locate in Jacksonville. They met, but no corporate name was revealed.

A week or two later, JAXUSA took another call asking to meet in Orlando, so it went along with Enterprise Florida. At the meeting “was when I got to meet my new friends from Amazon,” Bowman said.

In March, working with the city and state, they put together an economic development agreement that provided incentives of about $18.4 million. That comprised $13.4 million from the city and almost $5 million from the state.

Amazon said it would hire 1,500 full-time workers, with 500 jobs paying an average of $50,000 a year. The state helped to pay for road improvements at the Northwest Jacksonville site.

Council approved the incentives for Amazon, which was code-named Project Rex “because it was big,” Bowman said.

Amazon announced that first site in July. A couple of weeks later, “they came back to us and said we’re thinking about another facility and we’ve been working on it already at the Cecil Commerce Center,” Bowman said.

The city and state approved a second round of incentives for $8.3 million, split $7.1 million from the city and $1.2 million from the state. That center promises 1,200 jobs, of which 325 will make an average $50,675.

While the upper management will make the incentivized salaries, Bowman said the floor workers probably will be paid $10-$12 an hour.

He said both centers should open by year-end. One of Amazon’s initial questions was whether it could be open by August in time for the holiday shopping season. He said it expects to hold job fairs in “the May time frame.”

Bowman said Enterprise Florida is the state counterpart to metropolitan entities like JAXUSA, which represents Duval, Baker, Clay, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

“We work hand-in-hand with them on all these projects,” Bowman said. “They were tied to the hip with me on Amazon.”

Referring to the banter between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, both Republicans, Bowman said he has “never seen anything quite like it.”

“The Senate right now is kind of laying low. We’re watching where they go,” he said.

The legislative session starts March 7.

“I can tell you from our perspective what Enterprise Florida provides to us is very important,” Bowman said.

He said a lot of economic-development prospects tell site consultants they want to locate in the Southeastern United States. The consultant then will ask Enterprise Florida to identify where the prospect might be able to find sites that fit its needs.

“The last thing the site consultant wants to do is go to 67 counties in Florida,” he said.

Bowman’s wide-ranging comments also provide more insights:

• Amazon is expected to draw workers from as far north as Southern Georgia, west to Lake City and south to below St. Johns County.

• Hans-Mill Corp. probably will hold a ribbon-cutting in May to officially open its Northwest Jacksonville manufacturing facility, where it will make metal trash cans.

• The city made a run at recruiting Mercedes-Benz USA’s headquarters to Jacksonville. The company will move from New Jersey to Atlanta in early 2018. While the city didn’t win that, Mercedes-Benz will move its engineering services division to Jacksonville, where the company has a Quality Evaluation Center at Jacksonville International Tradeport.

• The expanded United Parcel Service center in Westside Industrial Park will “go big-time” with robotics and automation.

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