Coming Attractions

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// by Matt Coleman

The economic maelstrom that enveloped the late aughts has given way to a much brighter economic picture for Jacksonville moving in to 2015.
Key industries that have powered the First Coast’s economic engine for years will continue to thrive, and the real estate market could be primed for a rebound, according to a number of Northeast Florida business and economic development leaders.
The introduction of JP Morgan Chase to the market has been a shot in the arm for an already-solid financial services sector, according to Theodore Carter, executive director/CEO of the city’s Office of Economic Development. JP Morgan Chase opened nine branches in Jacksonville this year and plans to open a few more around the Orange Park area by the end of the year. With regional standards such as Bank of America and Deutsche Bank maintaining their current level of success in the market, Carter says the
financial sector looks strong going into 2015. Additionally, the city’s manufacturing industry is due to expand rapidly with GE Oil & Gas’ 500-employee manufacturing plant coming to Cecil Commerce Center on Jacksonville’s Westside. And the city’s growing tourism industry, spurred by happenings such as the Jaguars’ annual visits to
London, will likely eclipse 2013’s total of 5 million visitors to the River City.
“Our London trip allows city leaders to further market and brand Jacksonville to potential visitors outside of the country,” Carter says. “It’s a unique opportunity for the city to export its culture abroad.”
Others see 2015 as the year Jacksonville stakes its claim as an energy hub for the region. William Rupp, chair of the JAX Chamber Board of Directors and CEO of Mayo Clinic Florida, says the city’s transportation and logistics sector is on the cutting edge when it comes to fueling container vessels with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG). JAXPORT has added LNG as a key cog in its strategic plan at a time when industry forecasts point toward widespread adoption of LNG-fueling methods for many vessels within the global fleet.
“We are starting to see development with businesses looking toward these cleaner, less expensive fuel sources, and other businesses are starting to invest in Jacksonville to fill that need,” Rupp says.
The port will play an even greater role in the city’s economic development as talks intensify about the harbor-deepening project, Rupp says. Signs point to that discussion dragging along past 2015, but Rupp, a supporter of the deepening, says the coming year could bring with it more funding for the federal portion of the project, a step that he says will be “critical to our economic future.”
“In the global marketplace, if you are standing still on your port, you are falling behind,” he says. “We have to continue to improve in order to keep the business we have at JAXPORT and grow it in the future.”
Future growth has been a distant thought for the long-dormant regional real estate market, but Jim Sebesta, vice president and co-founder of Jacksonville-based Newmark Grubb Phoenix Realty Group, says the First Coast is primed for a comeback. There has been a great deal of movement in the sector in the past few months, especially with large companies looking for new office spaces along the J. Turner Butler Boulevard corridor. Sebesta says he’s met with a number of businesses looking for speculative building opportunities in the city—a welcome change after months of stasis.
“There is a lot of very good development happening in our market,” he says. “We haven’t seen anyone even remotely interested in building new product for some time. It’s been good to see some solid prospects looking to kick tires in the market.”
And Sebesta echoed Carter’s sentiments, saying that he believes the medical and financial sectors will remain major economic drivers in the city. He
expects many of the companies in these industries with lease
expirations approaching to
consider looking for new office spaces in 2015.
“Rents have been moving up steadily everywhere, so moving into a brand-new building suite might not induce as much sticker shock when compared to the days when rates were
depressed,” he says. “You can drive efficiencies with a new building more tailored to a
business’ specific needs.”
One consistent belief is that this could be the year Downtown truly ignites. Carter says the city’s partnership with the Jesse Ball duPont Foundation will create a non-profit
incubator at the former Haydon Burns Library and bring scores of workers to the iconic but long-vacant building nestled in the heart of Downtown.
Rupp believes Shad Khan’s development proposal for the Shipyards property could be a game changer that might include an entertainment complex designed to keep people in the area near EverBank Field before and after Jags games. That potential expansion, along with Intuition Ale Works’ imminent move to Downtown and the Cowford Chophouse occupying the Bostwick Building could breathe new life into a downtown that has struggled with relevance for decades.  m