Economic Development – A vital endeavor in St. Johns County
The term “Economic Development” can mean different things to different people depending on whom you ask. For a small business owner with a storefront in downtown St. Augustine, economic development could mean retail sales. For a resident in World Golf Village, it could mean a well-paying job closer to home without a commute to Jacksonville. For a growing manufacturer, it could mean the need to invest more capital into equipment, expand a building or hire new employees to keep up with business demands. For a governmental entity like St. Johns County, all of these scenarios represent economic development opportunities and all contribute to the economic viability of a community.
How so? Sales from gift shops, department stores and other retailers help generate sales tax. Capital investment that manufacturers and other business owners make in new buildings and equipment helps generate ad valorem property taxes. Jobs created within the community enable residents to provide necessary food, clothing and shelter for their families, but skilled jobs typically pay higher than average wages and may offer families greater discretionary income, which enhances wealth opportunities within the community.
Why is this important to St. Johns County? Simply stated, taxes generated by this type of commercial activity help provide operating income to the county, which provides services and infrastructure to support the public health, safety and welfare of our population. Additionally, wages earned by our residents are often spent locally and support businesses and other entities, which helps multiply the benefit of spending within the community.
When the Great Recession hit our nation in 2008, many businesses slowed operations, laid off employees or closed altogether. Those actions affected many Americans who had to tighten their budgets to weather the downward business cycle. St. Johns County was not immune to the negative fiscal impact of that declining economic period. With shrinking resources, we struggled to continue providing necessary public services to our residents who were facing even greater need.
During that timeframe, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners contracted with the University of North Florida to study economic development efforts around the nation to determine how counties engaged in the process. The results indicated that a strong majority of counties were proactively engaged in economic development and had dedicated staff and resources to support those activities. The study set a course for the Commission to create a program similar to other county programs around the country.
In 2011, the County Commission created the economic development department and my position within it, with the goal of leading coordinated efforts to attract and retain business in St. Johns County, increase the commercial tax base, and promote high-wage job creation. The county has taken the initiative to be competitive in the economic development arena. We do not wish to merely be a bedroom community, nor do our residents want us to be one.
With this unified commitment, economic development remains a top priority of the Board of County Commissioners to benefit to the community as a whole. Many executives moving here are taking measures to relocate their business interests and my goal is to assist those executives in accessing the resources they need to successfully locate their businesses in St. Johns County.
So far, the county’s proactive efforts have paid dividends and led to several successes. Some of the corporations that have selected St. Johns County include Advanced Disposal, who located their corporate headquarters in Nocatee (150 new jobs with an average wage of $112,000); D.R. Horton, who located their regional corporate headquarters in the county’s northwest sector (270 new jobs); iDeal Aluminum, who relocated their corporate headquarters/manufacturing operation in the former Ideal building (120 new jobs); and German-based 2G Energy, who located their U.S. corporate headquarters/manufacturing operation near World Golf Village (125 new jobs). In addition, Northrop Grumman, a long-standing local employer, chose to expand their facility at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport and locate their national Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence (400 new jobs and $100 million capital investment).
We are very proud of the commitment and investment these companies have made in St. Johns County and recognize the skilled jobs, capital investment and other positive economic development benefits they provide to our community. There is significant buzz about St. Johns County and new corporate expansion and relocation activity is expected to continue.
Melissa S. Glasgow serves as the Director of Economic Development for St. Johns County. She is the first person to hold this position and began her work with the county in 2011. As the lead for the county’s primary designated economic development organization, Glasgow coordinates overall economic development efforts in St. Johns County and works closely with other partners to attract new businesses to St. Johns County, as well as support existing businesses.
Photo courtesy St. Johns County
Melissa S. Glasgow