Florida Trend Highlights Northeast Florida's International Connections


Peter Denoncourt says there wasn't one particular thing that stood out about Northeast Florida when Saft America Inc. went looking for a new location to build a manufacturing plant for its lithium-ion batteries; it was a combination of factors that made this seven-county region attractive.

Jacksonville proved to be the perfect low-cost entry point city for Saft America's new $200-million manufacturing plant. Two-thirds of the 50 million people living in the southeastern United States are within 600 miles of this region, which is home to more than 80 corporate, regional and divisional business headquarters; a combination of quiet neighborhoods and bustling urban centers; miles of pristine Atlantic coastline; and a wealth of cultural and recreational opportunities, notto mention America's oldest city — St. Augustine. And with three interstate highways, three major rail lines, two deepwater ports and four marine terminals, Northeast Florida offers some of the best transportation options available.


Since Saft America plans on using its new factory as a "showcase" to both domestic and international clients interested in alternative energy sources, convenience played heavily into the site decision. Jacksonville International Airport, with 200 arrivals and departures daily, provides easy access to the factory, which is located at nearby Cecil Commerce Center North.

"Convenience was important from the beginning," says Denoncourt, who will run the Jacksonville operation. "We wanted to make it easy."

Saft America Inc. already has five manufacturing plants in the southeastern U.S., mostly in rural areas. However, for this new 235,000-square-foot factory for the production of lithium-ion batteries, the company required a more sophisticated site and Jacksonville seemed the perfect fit, says Denoncourt. "This city has more of an international feel."


The lithium-ion batteries to be manufactured at Saft's Jacksonville facility, which is slated for completion by early 2011, will be the type that can help store the energy generated from solar and wind farms for easy distribution and use by electric utilities.
 

"We expect to do a lot of work,'' Denoncourt says, noting that at full capacity, the Jacksonville facility will produce an estimated $300 million worth of batteries annually. To meet demand, Saft is expected to hire as many as 280 workers at salaries that are approximately 15% above the average statewide wage. Many of the hires, Denoncourt adds, will likely be drawn from the region's plentiful pool of former military employees. 

 

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Christine Jordan Sexton

Florida Trend