Economic Development – Building a diverse economic base through marketing
A top priority of any business owner should be to promote their business. Ideally, marketing and promotion efforts should help a business generate sales. Sales translates into revenue for the business, salaries for the staff, and income for the owner. If a business has a great product and no one knows, it generally spells failure due to lack of sales.
The same concept holds true to a certain extent for communities in attracting economic development. There is significant competition for new corporate headquarters and manufacturing locations around the world. Why? Quite simply, businesses create jobs, jobs bring revenue into communities, and communities grow because of that activity. More specifically, businesses pay taxes that generate direct revenue to help communities provide programs and services to its citizenry.
While it is beneficial to have many businesses in a community, it is also important to have a diverse economic base. Just like a financial portfolio, business diversity helps balance tax revenue and provides a variety of jobs for the residents to help protect against widespread reductions in an economic downturn.
Historically, St. Johns County’s primary economic sectors have been agriculture, tourism and retail, which correlate to the state’s economic drivers. Since a diverse economy does not rely solely on just a few industries, the county’s Economic Development Department targets other industries such as Aviation and Aerospace, Financial and Professional Services, Defense and Manufacturing, among others. These types of industries provide high-skilled, high wage jobs, and significant capital investment to help build industry market-share in other areas besides our dominant industry sectors like tourism and home construction.
Promoting a community to encourage economic development is based primarily on building relationships. So how does the county market to attract new business development and expansion? It starts with the support of the County Commission identifying economic development as a top priority and directing resources toward a proactive marketing program to promote the county’s noteworthy attributes.
With that support, county economic development staff engage in proactive marketing activities through industry-specific organizations and with economic development partners at a local, regional, state and national level. These activities focus on relationship management and help deliver a consistent message to brokers, developers, site consultants and business leaders to create interest from companies looking for their next location or site expansion.
Some of these organizations include National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), Urban Land Development (ULI), CoreNet Global, and International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Department staff also engage in events featuring site consultants sponsored by national publications like Area Development, and partner with state and regional economic development partners Enterprise Florida (EFI) and JAXUSA.
When there is an opportunity to showcase county assets locally, such as The Players Championship, staff works in conjunction with marketing partners Team Florida (through EFI), JAXUSA and Florida Power & Light (FPL) to participate in activities that invite real estate and site consultants to the area. In May, EFI and JAXUSA hosted eight consultants at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach. This gave the consultants a fresh perspective of the beauty and opportunity that exists here in St. Johns County and Northeast Florida. FPL’s Office of Economic Development also hosted a consultant event in 2015, which highlighted the ambiance of historic downtown St. Augustine.
Staff has created a variety of marketing tools to position the county as a premier Florida location for business. The most popular method of disseminating information is through the economic development section on the county website. This section features community and demographic information, along with up-to-date development stories that site selectors and others who conduct location due-diligence may find of interest. Information features county attributes, demographics, pertinent news articles, resource partners, and other useful data.
In addition to the economic development web section, staff has designed a tradeshow booth and marketing materials, including a community profile, permit and proximity maps, and flyers promoting retail opportunities. The county also collaborates with Enterprise Florida and JAXUSA to provide a searchable real estate database on our website featuring commercial sites and buildings within the county.
Feedback to the marketing tools has been positive and inquiries continue to increase. Last year, the county economic development department provided customized assistance to 137 business inquiries, an increase of 49 percent from 2015. This year, inquiries are twice the number of last year’s activity year-to-date, which indicates that interest continues to be strong.
St. Johns County is riding a wave of positive economic activity, highlighted by a historically low unemployment rate, increasing average county wage, and marked increases in commercial permit activity and tax base valuation. Let’s keep the momentum going!
Melissa S. Glasgow is Director of Economic Development for St. Johns County.