VyStar Credit Union CEO Brian Wolfburg says he has been charged by the nonprofit LIFT JAX Inc. to see if the everyday supplies used by Jacksonville companies could be made in Jacksonville’s Eastside to create jobs.
“We’re trying to bring together not just (VyStar’s) purchasing, but several of the larger institutions in the area to see if we can look at what it is we buy in the quantity that is not produced here,” Wolfburg said.
He said the work with LIFT JAX is conceptual, but plans are to poll Jacksonville corporate leaders to find common products in their procurement orders that could be made locally to spur manufacturing in the Eastside.
He uses coffee cups as an example of what VyStar and other companies buy in bulk.
Wolfburg said companies could combine orders to provide a production startup an immediate customer base or recruit manufacturers to move to Jacksonville’s Eastside and create jobs.
“It’s not going to change the world but it’s going to make small dents,” Wolfburg said.
“It’s going to move things forward especially if we position those manufacturers in the right location.”
Jacksonville business and community leaders, as well as residents of the Eastside neighborhood, formed LIFT JAX in March 2020 after nearly three years of preliminary work.
The historic Eastside neighborhood is east of Downtown, north of TIAA Bank Field and the Arlington Expressway and west of Talleyrand.
President David Garfunkel said Aug. 5 that LIFT JAX’s goal is to end generational poverty in the Eastside and, eventually, citywide with the “Purpose Built Communities” model that he says has helped revitalize Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood.
Wolfburg said the concept came as he worked with Florida Blue Market President Darnell Smith, Jessie Ball duPont Fund President Mari Kuraishi and Garfunkel over the past year on the LIFT JAX Steering Committee and Financial Stability Subcommittee.
Wolfburg said purchase commitments from local corporations could be combined with property, facility and financial incentives to help entrepreneurs start manufacturing operations on the Eastside.
Startups could work with local nonprofits and financial institutions to acquire the land and establish capital lending relationships or with the city for tax incentives, Wolfburg said.
According to Wolfburg, VyStar buys locally made products like coffee from Martin Coffee Co. and contracts with local companies like Brightway Insurance for services.
He said buying locally produced goods can cost more upfront, but it increases a manufacturer’s return on investment.
“(VyStar’s) business exists solely based on the membership of the people in central and Northeast Florida and soon to be Georgia. It’s foolish for us to take those dollars, extrapolate them and spend them outside the region,” he said.
“They’re putting their money with us, they’re helping us grow, we’re adding to our infrastructure and employment, which helps the area, but we can also create a flywheel by continuing to reinvest in the area,” Wolfburg said.
Garfunkel said LIFT JAX plans to implement its strategy of mixed-income housing, cradle-to-career education, community wellness and long-term financial viability to the Eastside that can be replicated in other areas of the city like Durkeeville and Moncrief.
Garfunkel said the Eastside and Talleyrand neighborhoods are good for the manufacturing pilot because of land availability, building vacancies and the area’s history in manufacturing.
He said unemployment in Jacksonville’s Eastside is four times the city average, which stood at 5.4% in June, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
“If we were able to create a couple of hundred good jobs that were for working-age adults in the Eastside, we would eliminate unemployment … to functionally zero.”
Garfunkel said even a pilot that creates 10 jobs is “10 jobs more than we had and it keeps the money local.”
He said the concept’s success depends on business leaders’ buy-in.
The diversity of corporate, nonprofit and business leaders on the LIFT JAX executive board and steering committee are a good starting point, he said.
“The initial seeds have been planted,” Garfunkel said.
“So, I actually feel very confident that if we put a stake in the ground around this, especially if someone like Brian (Wolfburg) and others are leading it, then I think we could generate the support.”