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Clay Future Could Be in Manufacturing

Clay Future Could Be in Manufacturing

FLEMING ISLAND – Clay County officials have been told they should focus on luring manufacturing jobs here, according to a consultant hired to develop a strategic plan for economic development.

“Green Cove Springs has been identified as one of the top three best small markets for manufacturing and we’ve seen local manufacturers do well,” said Bill Garrison, president of the Clay County Economic Development Corp., one of the lead agency’s funding the study.

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“It’s called identifying gaps in the supply chain. For example, say Vac-Con produces widgets. Is there a widget producer here or are they trucking them in from somewhere else? Because of what Vac-Con is doing here, one of the things we can do to bring in new jobs is to recruit suppliers,” Garrison said.

In similar manner, having a cluster of aviation companies, for example, in the county gives Garrison a recruiting tool in that industry. If other companies have already chosen Clay County because it has the real estate, workforce and other aspects commonly needed in aviation, Garrison can form a convincing sales pitch to companies seeking a new venue.

“We have American Valley Aviation, which refurbishes parts that go under the wings of P-3 Orions, which are a maritime patrol aircraft. The parts come in beat up and they fix them up. We also have an aviation recruiting company that recruits the workforce aviation companies need and they’re here because we’re just a few miles from Naval Aviation Station Jacksonville,” Garrison said.

Another selling point the county has is the construction of the First Coast Expressway, which is expected to attract new visitors and attention to Clay County.

“They also recommended we take advantage of the investment being made in infrastructure, meaning the First Coast Expressway, by being intentional about our strategies. We need to create deliberate plans instead of sitting idly by and watching the expressway be built and let things happen organically,” Garrison said.

He said without proper planning, Clay County could miss out on multiple opportunities to locate manufacturers here if a strategy is put in place.

“Five years from now, we don’t want to have missed the opportunity to have been intentional in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the First Coast Expressway,” Garrison said.

This means anticipating a growing population base and corresponding workforce that will develop. This may likely consist of new residents who would prefer to work close to home and not fight daily traffic to and from Jacksonville.

Capitalizing on the expressway may also mean expediting the zoning process as the toll road brings new commercial development. The community may see a continued expansion of assisted living and other healthcare facilities, as well as expanded retail, though county leaders aren’t planning to target low-paying jobs that don’t generate economic power. This is why the county has created incentives for new manufacturing jobs instead.

Because Jacksonville has become a healthcare hub in the southeastern U.S., Clay County has benefitted from its suburban proximity. Being part of the Northeast Florida market will continue to benefit Clay County as Jacksonville attracts other industries.

“The region has what is needed to attract professional services, aviation, manufacturing, warehouse distribution, information technology and healthcare – those are the target industries and being in one of those industries qualifies them for incentives from our county commissioners and from the state,” Garrison said.

The Balmoral Group also recommended that economic development officials provide more support for small businesses, not just expansion projects at existing businesses.

“We know what we need to do, but what was a little surprising was their recommendation for entrepreneurial support. Small startup businesses need incentives and our incentives are geared toward larger companies making capital investments, said Holly Parrish, the county government’s director of economic and development services.

“However, small business startups need incentives, too, and that’s something we need to work on. It may not be financial incentives, but who knows? The report is about identifying deficiencies and there will be ongoing discussion about what we can realistically achieve.”

Parrish said this is a working plan that is not final but is flexible and metrics will be put in place to measure whether goals are being achieved as the plan is implemented. Garrison agreed.

“With this plan, the Balmoral Group said with our limited resources, we would likely see the most benefit from targeting the manufacturing sector,” Garrison said. “Not at the exclusion of other sectors, but they thought we have more momentum with manufacturing and should build a cluster around the manufacturers that are already here and having success.”

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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