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St. Pete Times Article Praising Jacksonville

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Florida's swan

By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

Published November 14, 2004

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Mirror, mirror on the wall. What Florida metro area is the hottest of them all?

With Florida at the forefront of the rebounding U.S. economy, competition is keen.

The Tampa Bay area, with its low unemployment rate, could make a good run at the title. So could Orlando now that tourism is rebounding. Or Palm Beach with the soon-to-arrive biotech giant Scripps Research Institute. Or maybe Miami, so focused on winning the coveted free trade zone to Latin America.

My vote goes to . . . Jacksonville.

As the host of Super Bowl XXXIX in February, Jacksonville will be one of the smaller metro areas to host the championship game, one of television's most globally watched events. The city also pulled a rare economic coup last year by persuading two Fortune 500 companies to relocate their corporate headquarters to the area. Jacksonville has even managed in recent years to rank No. 1 or near the top on prestigious corporate relocation lists of "America's hottest cities."

That's just for starters. Florida's forgotten northern metro area - a place once renowned for the reek of paper mills, a city that people still joke is more part of south Georgia than Florida - is coming on strong as a potent economic force.

So potent that Jacksonville is on the radar of economic developers in the Tampa Bay area, still twice Jacksonville's population, as a new and serious competitor.

"As we see bigger deals going down, Jacksonville is consistently on the short list of locations," says Chris Steinocher, vice president of marketing and strategic direction at the Tampa Bay Partnership, this area's regional marketing organization. "Five years ago, Jacksonville would show up on occasion but was not consistent. But we would be kidding ourselves to say Jacksonville will not be more of a competitor."

There are economic lessons to learn here.

In many ways, Jacksonville and the Tampa Bay area appear to be much alike. They are both sprawling metro areas with active ports on the coast of Florida. They both rely on growing populations, Florida's sunshine lifestyle and the state's probusiness climate as selling points when recruiting new companies.

Each metro area convinced itself in years past that greatness was just around the corner by embracing self-inflated slogans. "Bold New City of the South" was Jacksonville's claim. "America's Next Great City" was Tampa's equally excessive choice. Both metro areas also suffered years of self-doubt and an inferiority complex when economic reality reduced these slogans to bad punch lines.

Now that both metro areas are on economic rolls with renewed confidence, they retain some striking differences. Jacksonville - the city and the county, Duval - are one and the same, which gives the area a singularly focused ability to pursue economic development with one voice. The Tampa Bay area, while improving as a cooperative economic region, remains by comparison a modern Tower of Babel. Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and dozens of smaller cities often pursue separate agendas, while Pinellas, Hillsborough and surrounding counties can act as adversaries as much as allies.

Jacksonville also enjoys a geographic proximity to the Southeastern states that has made it a major port for automobiles. Logistically, the Tampa Bay area is too far south on Florida's peninsula to compete in that business.

On the other hand, the Tampa Bay area enjoys the rising research and economic clout from the University of South Florida, one of the nation's top 20 schools in size. Jacksonville can only promote loose connections with the distant University of Florida in Gainesville.

Tampa Bay also has forged a power alliance of technology companies known as the Florida High Tech Corridor, based on the proximity of Interstate 4 and the research strength of USF and the University of Central Florida, that stretches to Orlando and Melbourne. Jacksonville has no similar tech compact.

And last but not least, the Tampa Bay area enjoys good airport travel connections. Jacksonville remains lean on flights and direct air connections.

One man who has watched both metro areas mature is Jerry Mallot. He worked on Tampa's Committee of 100 economic development group, then moved over to help start the Tampa Bay Partnership. In the early 1990s, Jacksonville business leaders tried to lure him away to help run their chamber of commerce.

"My first reaction was, "You can't be serious,' " Mallot recalls. "Why would I ever leave Tampa Bay?" But he agreed to travel to Jacksonville, where he was introduced to a diamond in the rough.

Mallot's visit also happened to coincide with the National Football League's decision to grant Jacksonville the NFL's 30th franchise. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a big risk. But Mallot saw gold.

"I knew the Jaguars franchise would have an enormous impact on this part of the state and Jacksonville proper," he recalled. Mallot took the job and serves as executive vice president of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Nobody likes to admit that pro football is so influential to the prosperity of a metro area. It's not that Jacksonville would be hurting without an NFL team. But the franchise gave unprecedented national attention to Jacksonville - a Florida town, frankly, that few people outside the state could easily find on a map.

The same thing happened to the Tampa Bay area when it won its own NFL franchise and began play in 1976.

"As hard as people do not want to hear it, football puts you on the map," says the Tampa Bay Partnership's Steinocher.

For Jacksonville, that was just the beginning. When the city and county became one geographic entity and a single government, Jacksonville became more nimble as an economic competitor. The area hit pay dirt in 2003, when the Fortune 500 railroad giant CSX Corp. decided to move its headquarters to the city.

Then Fidelity National Financial, another Fortune 500 company based in Santa Barbara, Calif., purchased Alltel's financial service division in Jacksonville. At the time, Fidelity CEO Bill Foley was fed up with the high costs and antibusiness climate in California. When Foley saw Jacksonville, he was impressed.

Gov. Jeb Bush twice contacted Foley to encourage the company to move to Florida. (If this sounds familiar, Bush also personally visited and lobbied another major California organization, Scripps Research Institute, to create from scratch a major biotech facility in South Florida.)

It worked. With Fidelity's relocation, Jacksonville snagged two Fortune 500 headquarters in one year. (The Miami Herald this summer named Fidelity National the state's No. 1 company in its annual statewide ranking of public companies.) That's one for the record book.

And it was enough to catch the attention and envy of economic developers in cities across Florida and the Southeast. With Fidelity, CSX and Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville boasts more Fortune 500 headquarters than either the larger Tampa Bay area, Miami or Orlando.

Hence my vote in 2004 for Jacksonville.

Short term, Jacksonville's economic bounce may mean the Tampa Bay area loses a few more businesses to its new metro competitor. Long term, a stronger Jacksonville will benefit all of Florida.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at 727 893-8405 or [email protected]

BY THE NUMBERS

Comparing five metro areas in the southeastern United States that compete for business.

Jacksonville

Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent

Number of Fortune 500 headquarters: 3

Population: 1.2-million

Recent big deal: Hosting Super Bowl in 2005.

Tampa Bay

Unemployment rate: 2.9 percent

Number of Fortune 500 headquarters: 2

Population: 2.5-million

Recent big deal: Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. operations center.

Atlanta

Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent

Number of Fortune 500 headquarters: 13

Population: 4.3-million

Recent big deal: Newell Rubbermaid relocated its headquarters.

Charlotte, N.C.

Unemployment rate: 4.4 percent

Number of Fortune 500 headquarters: 7

Population: 1.5-million.

Recent big deal: Relocation of Johnson & Wales University culinary school.

Miami

Unemployment rate: 6.1 percent

Number of Fortune 500 headquarters: 2

Population: 2.4-million

Recent big deal: Trademarked "Gateway to the Americas" to attract free trade zone.

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Though I think he's shorting Miami and South Florida quite a bit, I think we can all agree that a renewed Jacksonville is good for us all.

Keep up the good work.

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That is a great article. It seemed as though Jax was getting only negative articles, but this was really good for them. There is great potential for Jacksonville to reach a metro population of 2 Million.

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