Dozens of restaurants and businesses are coming to three new shopping centers. How will they impact Jacksonville?
William Mathews, manager of Grub Burger Bar, set up a tent display in front of the unfinished restaurant to build awareness — and recruit workers.
Grub Burger Bar, a Texas-based chain restaurant opening at The Strand at Town Center early next year, is one of at least 40 businesses coming to three retail centers taking shape across from St. Johns Town Center.
The businesses opening at The Strand, The Crossing at Town Center and Town Center Promenade are bringing more than 1,000 jobs to the Southside area.
A Daily Record review of those businesses found they plan to create at least 1,300 jobs, but the actual count is likely much larger because only about half the stores identified as tenants and owners responded to requests for employment numbers.
At average annual wages of $20,000 to $26,000 for sales and services jobs, the stores will generate a minimum payroll of $26 million, based on government salary statistics.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reported those average salaries for jobs described as food preparation and serving, personal care and services, sales and related occupations in the five-county Jacksonville Metropolitan Statistical Area.
University of North Florida economist Albert Loh said an addition of 2,000 jobs to a Duval County workforce of 486,000 might not seem like much, but the effect can be significant.
“What’s more important is the implication,” he said. “We are seeing a rapidly growing part of Jacksonville.”
That means more shoppers could travel longer distances to shop in the Town Center area, improving sales. It also could mean customers might bypass existing retail centers for the newest stores and restaurants.
More stores, jobs
The Crossing and The Strand at Town Center and the neighboring Town Center Promenade are under development along Town Center Parkway and Gate Parkway, opposite St. Johns Town Center and The Markets at Town Center.
At least 17 businesses have opened.
The Daily Record found that 20 restaurants, many of them new to the area, will account for about half the tenants. Ten of those are hiring almost 1,000 workers.
Retail stores Aldi, 2nd & Charles, Hobby Lobby, Wawa, PGA Tour Superstore, Mattress 1One and Mattress Firm are creating almost 200 jobs.
Of those, Wawa, Mattress 1One and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits remain under development. Wawa expects to open Dec. 21 and ABC anticipates opening during the third quarter of 2018.
Service- and retail-oriented businesses such as Hyatt Place, Tru by Hilton, CareNow Urgent Care, Goo-Goo Express Car Wash, Aspen Dental and Pediatric Associates say they will create about 100 jobs.
Stores and restaurants have been opening in the new shopping areas since the summer. Many buildings continue under construction or are available for lease.
Some stores and businesses, including Best Buy, TD Ameritrade and Chase Bank, are relocating from the existing Town Center properties. While they are vacating stores, new tenants could bring more new jobs.
Also, the hotels — Hyatt Place and Tru by Hilton — and the two apartment complexes will create jobs.
More retailers and restaurants are expected to lease there, adding to the employment level.
Finding, keeping workers
While the jobs pay less than the area’s per capita income of $41,339, Candace Moody, communications vice president of CareerSource Northeast Florida, advised not to discount the work.
She said entry-level or “starter” jobs are important for students at nearby UNF and Florida State College at Jacksonville and for immigrants learning the language and culture.
The restaurant and construction jobs also provide what she calls “second chance” or “fresh start” jobs for those with troubled work histories.
New stores and restaurants also generate another impact — attracting employees from existing retailers.
“Employee churn is normal in restaurant and service jobs. It will all level out. People want to work at the newest, shiniest store,” Moody said.
Retail stores can attract employees who like to shop there, Moody said.
For example, hobbyists like to work at Hobby Lobby. High-end restaurants can attract employees with their image and potential for tips.
At the same time, employers that want to keep employees might be able to do so with stabilized schedules and career paths, she said.
For example, restaurant employees want to know far in advance when they will be working and don’t want to close at 2 a.m. and reopen the next morning.
“Employees have other lives,” Moody said.
Employers also are seeking reliability from their employees. “They want to make sure employees will show up for work,” she said.
Loh, chair and economics professor at the UNF Coggin College of Business, said he suspects growth in the Town Center food-service sector could lead to better pay and benefits in the area “simply because of how centralized these restaurants are.”
Andres Gallo, a UNF economics professor and director of the International Business Flagship Program, said that in a tight labor market, adding jobs can lead to wage increases.
Economic activity shift
The new stores and centers also could bring in more business for the St. Johns Town Center’s surrounding area as more customers travel to Jacksonville to shop in the existing and new stores, including the Ikea at Gate Parkway and Interstate 295.
Gallo calls that the “economies of agglomeration,” although he said it is difficult to forecast.
While it brings commerce to the Town Center area, it might take business from other shopping centers.
“One drawback is the fact that some companies and consumers could focus on this area and disengage from other areas in the same city, leading to the decline of some other local shopping areas,” Gallo said, such as Downtown, The Avenues and Orange Park.
The 50-year-old Regency Square Mall is an example of an established shopping center that experienced declines as newer centers opened, drawing away customers.
Chris Johnson, UNF associate dean and associate professor of economics, said that effect extends into surrounding areas.
“One of the major concerns in urban development is the decline of certain areas as economic activity shifts,” he said.
“This gives rise to greater concentration of poverty in declining areas and accompanying social costs such as increased crime,” Johnson said.
What can help, he said, is efficient public transportation that provides accessibility to the new jobs “for some of the most economically vulnerable,” he said.
At Grub Burger Bar, Matthews said it hasn’t been difficult recruiting workers. He said workers often will work at several locations, for example, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and his restaurant.
He said that as long as companies treat employees well, they will stick around.
Grub Burger Bar opens Jan. 11.