St. Johns County Economic Development update: Why companies choose locations
A great way to kick off 2017 is to share news about two companies that have made decisions to expand in St. Johns County. Long-time existing business Burkhardt Distributing Company recently closed on 21 acres along Agricultural Center Drive to construct a new 113,000-square-foot corporate office/ distribution center. Burkhardt will maintain their 84 existing employees and add a few more as they grow into their new facility, expected to be completed in late 2017.
MAS-HVAC, a manufacturer of energy efficient climate solutions for large scale customers, intends to relocate from Green Cove Springs in 2017 and construct a new 32,400-square-foot corporate office/manufacturing facility in Elkton. MAS-HVAC currently has 15 employees, and at build-out, will employ more than 30 people at an average wage of $61,000.
On the heels of these two announcements, some might wonder just how companies go about choosing locations. There are a variety of factors that business executives consider when weighing such an important decision; some are very technical and others are more warm and fuzzy.
According to Area Development Magazine’s 2016 Survey of Site Selection Factors, the top consideration of 30 factors was the availability of a skilled workforce. The magazine has conducted this survey for 30 years, and skilled workforce has been at or near the top in every one. Another key factor, this year ranking second, is highway accessibility. Ranking third in this edition is quality of life. When the magazine first started conducting the survey in 1986, quality of life wasn’t a consideration. Since that time, this ideal has steadily risen in importance as people have started to value their sense of place.
Availability of skilled workforce: Both Burkhardt and MAS-HVAS have existing employees that they wanted to retain while continuing to grow their companies. But they both had exceeded capacity at their current locations and needed to find a new place to expand their operations. Staying within the region would allow them to keep their skilled workforce.
In business, maintaining trained and skilled personnel is significantly valuable to a company and less costly than trying to recruit new employees and starting from scratch. And since they plan to add to their workforce, having a skilled, educated labor pool in an area boasting the top-ranked Florida public school system and award-winning career academies could make that job a little easier.
Highway accessibility: Both companies selected new locations within five minutes of Interstate 95, thereby validating the factor that highway accessibility is important. Both projects also sought to acquire existing buildings (ranked fifth on the survey) to speed up their transition;however, with no suitable buildings available that met their requirements, they chose sites that were zoned appropriately within close proximity of at least two major thoroughfares.
Quality of life: Technical factors like highway accessibility and skilled workforce are certainly important. But for Burkhardt and MAS-HVAC, subtle factors such as quality of life also seemed to rank high in their decision-making process.
It so happens that both executives are St. Johns County residents. And while they both evaluated other areas to locate their business, they ultimately wanted their companies to be located close to home in St. Johns County.
Most everyone is familiar with the buzz about St. Johns County being a great place to live. Others think so, too. Noteworthy accolades include St. Johns County and St. Augustine being selected by CNN Money Magazine as #5 of Top 25 Counties for Best Places to Live: Where the Jobs Are; U.S. News & World Report as one of the Ten Best Places to Live in the United States; and Forbes Magazine as one of the Ten Prettiest Towns in the United States
Let’s also point out that St. Johns County has been ranked Florida’s Healthiest County for five straight years. Other national rankings showcase our beautiful natural amenities like the majestic St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean, featuring award-winning beaches visitors travel from all over the world to enjoy.
While these factors are just a handful of the numerous criteria evaluated in the site selection process, in most cases it comes down to where the executives want to live and raise their families — the warm and fuzzy factor. When the technical location requirements are met, the decision generally leans toward where the decision-maker will enjoy living the most. That would bode well for St. Johns County’s appeal for corporate investment going forward into the future.
Melissa S. Glasgow serves as the Director of Economic Development for St. Johns County, FL. 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.