A bicentennial is a significant milestone in the history of any city, and Jacksonville’s last 200 years are no exception. The rich tradition coupled with a diverse economic base has made Jacksonville a key component of growth for Northeast Florida and the United States over the years.
1822-1917 – A Humble Beginning Yields an Exciting Start
Jacksonville’s economy at its founding, like most of the United States, focused on farming and trade. The city exported cotton, lumber, oranges and vegetables, received manufactured goods from the North and quickly grew into a center of commercial activity as well as a tourist destination after the Civil War.
During this time, Jacksonville became a banking and insurance hub. Founded in 1877, Barnett National Bank had become a statewide powerhouse, and its success spurred the formation of other financial institutions that grew as the state and region prospered. These beginnings paved the way for the financial services industry’s growth in Jacksonville today yielding success for companies like Fidelity National Financial, Florida Blue, Deutsche Bank, VyStar Credit Union and others.
As a national center of commerce, Jacksonville’s population grew tremendously, yet the city’s growth took a hit at the turn of the century with the Great Fire of 1901. More than 2,300 buildings in downtown burned to the ground, but from the ruins came a modern skyline and beautiful structures as some of the world’s most acclaimed architects worked to rebuild the River City.
Further diversifying its industry, in the early 1900s, Jacksonville became known as the “Winter Film Capital of the World” and was home to more than 30 movie studios plus the first Technicolor motion picture, The Gulf Between. The industry remained an important part of the economy until World War I.
1918-1968 – Adapting to Challenging Times
Jacksonville took the next step in becoming a premiere destination as people flocked to Florida during the land boom in this era. Many relocated to the city following Jacksonville’s first Navy installation, NAS Jacksonville, in 1940, leading to a long history of economic prosperity and stable jobs for the military and civilian workforce. The U.S. Navy eventually established three naval bases in the area, making Jacksonville a critical part of the country’s defense industry that carried through World War II and beyond.
Business decisions made during this era provided fruitful economic opportunity for today. The presence of the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville would lead to the city’s acquisition of one of those naval bases, Cecil Naval Air Station, to develop approximately 8,300 acres earmarked for economic development in 1999. This acquisition created the largest aviation industrial park in the Southeast, Cecil Commerce Center, with Cecil Field’s four runways, including Florida’s third-longest at 12,500 feet and Cecil Spaceport, the first commercial spaceport on the East Coast licensed to conduct horizontal launch operations, providing fertile ground for advanced manufacturing, aviation and aerospace and logistics businesses to grow.
The region also progressed in its role as a logistics center with the growth in the federal highway system. In 1968, the City of Jacksonville and Duval County merged into a single governmental unit to improve how services were delivered to its expanding population. This created what we now know to be the largest city in land area in the contiguous United States.
1969-1992 – Diversification, Investment and Expansion
From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, Jacksonville saw a further diversification of its economy. Insurance companies and regional and national banking operations dominated the skyline and brought many people to the region.
Northeast Florida also saw its first convergence of finance and technology. Barnett established the state’s first credit card franchise, which helped develop chain-wide computerization across the industry before their competitors. From that point forward, technology and innovation became a critical part of the region’s economy.
In the 1970s, Frontier Contact Lenses built a production facility in Jacksonville that eventually became the corporate headquarters of Johnson & Johnson Vision, where more than 4 million contact lenses are made every year.
In 1986, Mayo Clinic expanded into Northeast Florida, marking the first time they had established a location outside of Minnesota. This was a catalyst for the growth of the health and biomedical industry in the Jacksonville region. Today, Jacksonville has one of the largest health care ecosystems in the country and is one of only two cities in the world that a Mayo Clinic and an MD Anderson Cancer Center.
1993-2021 – On the National (and Global) Stage
In 1993, the city was awarded an NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars. It put Jacksonville on the map as an elite sports destination and received global recognition as a result. This acknowledgement shifted the conversation for the city as an international destination for business expansion and relocation, especially as the franchise invested in a presence in the United Kingdom committing to play annually there since 2013.
This era also marked Jacksonville’s recognition as “America’s Logistics Center.” With the region’s two deep-water ports, three major interstates, four railroads and an international diversified airport system, Northeast Florida remained an integral part of the transportation industry and helped lay the foundation for the growth of global e-commerce in the years to come, with logistics companies like Amazon, Ulta, Wayfair and The Hillman Group setting up facilities in the city.
Jacksonville became an anchor for the fintech sector with the presence of FIS and the incubation of several companies that have led the charge in financial technology, including Black Knight, SoFi, SS&C Technologies and Citi. The region also expanded its growth in other high-value segments of its traditional target industries such as medical device manufacturing and health care IT.
2022 & Beyond: A Bright Future and Growing Population
Jacksonville’s future is as bright as ever. The region continues to see more people and more businesses call Northeast Florida home. Opportunities for growth abound as companies look to relocate or expand their operations here, and the breadth and depth of industries will only continue to increase. People from across the country are realizing the benefits of Jacksonville’s high quality of life and taking advantage of all the region has to offer.
Jacksonville’s commitment to building a diverse, layered economy, growing high-wage jobs, accommodating strong population growth and maintaining the principles that have made this city great will make the next 200 years as exciting as the first two centuries.