When the NFL played the Super Bowl in Jacksonville in 2005, it sparked a lot of interest in our region. The Super Bowl helped showcase Jacksonville and was followed by many new and expanded companies, but the truth is Jacksonville has been on a roll for a long time.
Located in the Northeast corner of Florida, Jacksonville is at the western most point of the eastern seaboard directly south of Cleveland, Ohio geographically. It is the largest city by land size in the lower 48 (11th in the world), and the most populous city in the state with more than 800,000 people. From all that space, Jacksonville has developed the biggest and one of the best park systems in the country and it allows for plenty of growth in economic development.
Arguably the most important business announcement for the continued success of the region occurred in August 2005 when Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), one of the world’s largest multi-modal transportation companies, signed a 30-year land lease with the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT). The agreement is giving birth to a new 158-acre cargo terminal, a $200 million project that will expand container-handling capacity by 800,000 TEUs annually by 2011.
The terminal will be operational in early 2008 and its potential is already being realized. Since April 2006, Bridgestone/ Firestone and Michael’s Stores have committed to significant projects in Jacksonville. Bridgetsone is building a one-million-square-foot distribution facility at the city’s Cecil Commerce Center, while Michael’s is relocating its 300,000-square-foot Southeast Seasonal Distribution Center from Savannah, Ga., giving the company 800,000 total square feet in Jacksonville.
Other projects are in the works in what has become a very active pipeline. Helping the cause are conversations with major shipping carries from East Asia and the approved Panama Canal expansion, which will allow access to the eastern U.S. for the post-Panamax ships traveling from that part of the world.
JAXPORT’s existing terminals handled nearly 800,000 containers in 2005, a port record. While most of its current trade travels to and from South and Latin American countries, Jacksonville is one of the leading U.S. ports for automobile imports, mostly from Western Europe and Japan. MOL’s presence will open up several additional trading routes to the growing markets of Asia, most specifically from China. Projections show that in five years, those countries will represent roughly 26 percent of Jacksonville trade, up from today’s mark of about 3 percent.
MOL’s investments and the subsequent business announcements were drawn by and further strengthen a strategic transportation network that has successfully attracted logistics and manufacturing companies through the years, most notably CSX Corporation, LandStar and BMW.
That network includes Cecil Commerce Center, the 17,000-acre former military base that has become one of the most advantageous industrial sites in the South. With four runways – one at 12,500 feet – and direct access to Interstate 10 and Interstate 295, Cecil is now on the radar for national site selection searches. Cecil’s totally new high-capacity infrastructure makes it a premier national site.
The latest news involves a team made up of Boeing, Italy-based Alenia Aeronautica and L-3 Communications that will build the Army’s Joint Cargo Aircraft, should it be successful in a bidding process. Jacksonville has targeted the aviation industry for several reasons: high-paying jobs, infrastructure capacity and sustainability – most projects are long-term and won’t be heading overseas due to FAA regulations.
Other companies, such as Vistakon, Northrop Grumman and Southeast Toyota, are also manufacturing or processing a variety of products in the Jacksonville region – from biomedical goods to aviation components.
Vistakon is a familiar name. Owned by Johnson & Johnson, it specializes in the manufacturing of contact lenses. With 2,000 employees, it is one of the region’s largest private employers.
Companies like these find Jacksonville’s market a relative bargain. The cost of living is below the national average, and the median housing price is $198,000. Constructions costs are 20 percent below the national average.
And it isn’t just the strategic location that drives these companies here. Sixty miles of coastline – and accompanying beaches – fall within Jacksonville’s seven-county region. Both the PGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Fame are headquartered nearby. And not only did the NFL choose the city for its biggest game in 2005, but the Jacksonville Jaguars play at ALLTEL Stadium every other week during the fall.
Lifestyle is a subjective measure; fortunately for Jacksonville, we have the objective, factual, and logistical assets to match!
Jerry Mallot is executive vice president of the Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership, which offers a variety of services for business, looking at expanding or relocating to the Northeast Florida area. Contact 904-366-6680 or visit: www.expandinjax.com