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Economic official presents development basics to Keystone group



Monitor Editor

The head of a Clay County economic development group gave a primer on jobs creation to the Keystone Lake Area Business Association April 8.

Bill Garrison, Director of Economic Development for the Clay County Chamber of Commerce explained the concepts associated with his job  to a lunchtime meeting at the Keystone Heights City Hall.  He also talked about how his organization helps to create and retain jobs in Clay County.

A cup of coffee at McDonald’s vs. $400,000 in Egyptian money

Garrison told the gathering that  his organization focuses on creating and retaining primary jobs. Primary jobs, like many manufacturing  occupations bring in money from outside the local market and create wealth within the local area.  He added that while retail jobs are also beneficial, most of them simply recirculate money within the local area and do not create new wealth.

“If you stop at McDonald’s buy a cup of coffee,” he said, “that is your local money paid to a local business supporting local employees. You are recirculating local money.”

Garrison then told the group about one Green Cove Springs manufacturer that imports revenue from around the world.

Vac-Con is a manufacturer of industrial sewer cleaning trucks.

“They manufacture those trucks from scratch, except for the chassis, and the big pump that creates the vacuum,” he said.

He explained that the company employs around 250 people and each truck sells for around $400,000.  He also said the firm sells its products all over the world.

“So when they sell a truck to Egypt,” he said, “that is $400,000 of Egyptian money that comes into Clay County.  It adds capital to our system as opposed to recirculating money.


Helps firm with transformer problem

Garrison also said one important role of economic developers is to retain existing jobs.

He cited one example of an Orange Park technology firm, Pragmatic Works  that had trouble with its electric service.

“He’s over on College Drive,” Garrison said of the business owner,  “has over 100 employees, and he just announced this year he is going to add 20 more employees to his business.  The average wage is $80,000.”

Garrison added that a faulty transformer was causing intermittent blackouts at the technology business.

“He thought that rather than going through the red tape at Clay Electric he would call the chamber,” said Garrison.  “The chamber called Mr. Davis (Clay Electric General Manager Ricky Davis) and the next thing you know he’s got a new transformer and life goes on.”

“When you help a guy like that,” continued Garrison, “he thinks twice about leaving.”

Garrison showed business association members his current leads inventory, listing 27 businesses he hoped to either lure to Clay County or keep in the area.

His work-in-process list included 700 anticipated jobs from the new St. Vincent’s Medical Center near Middleburg, 150 new jobs from Baptist Health in Fleming Island, and 130 new jobs at the Orange Park Medical Center.

Attendee asks, What are you doing for southwestern Clay County?

One attendee of the meeting, Cheryl Owen, pointed out to Garrison that all 27 of the projects he listed were for northern Clay County.

“The question that all of these people here are asking in their brains,” said Owen, “is what are you going to do to bring it down here to this end of the county?”

“I asked myself that question driving  down here,” Garrison answered.  “I don’t have a simple answer for you. I can’t promise anything.  What I can promise is that if you will make me aware of the (building) inventory, as I become aware of what is available down here, then we can try to steer business this way. That is about all I can do.  I’ll be honest with you.”

Garrison added that he has already begun to acquaint himself with Keystone Heights real estate by going on a tour of the airport with Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth.

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