What’s next after LignoTech?

But what’s next in terms of economic development in the county, and where?

Though Laura DiBella, executive director of Nassau County’s Economic Development Board, said that “significant activity” is “happening in every corner of the county right now,” she added that one of her next areas of focus for economic development is Yulee.

DiBella said that she could not go into detail about exactly what the projects might involve, but she did give broad descriptions of the types of industries that could be coming to the area.

“We have light manufacturing, health care, corporate headquarters (and) lots of retail (looking at Yulee).  Lots of retail is going to descend upon the Yulee area and really everything in between, so restaurants, warehousing, distribution – those types of industries.”

“Health care is going to become a very big component of Yulee,” DiBella allowed. DiBella then proposed that a new hospital could eventually come to Yulee “with due time (and) with population growth. … Yulee is – to steal somebody else’s words – the proverbial hole in the donut from a health-care standpoint.  It’s inevitable that we’re going to have something major on the health-care front happening out there.”  She said a new hospital would “probably start off as a free-standing emergency room.”

“Hospitals nowadays are planting their roots via free-standing emergency room types of setup and then the beds get built around it after that,” DiBella said.  “We are far enough away from all of the competition to potentially support a new hospital (in Yulee).”

Light manufacturing, as described by DiBella, is “generally thought of as more automated, clean, it doesn’t (produce a) smell, it doesn’t make noise, anything that would not be relegated to a heavy manufacturing (location) – which often will be (located) in a sparse, very non-residential area like the Crawford Diamond.”

“When I say manufacturing, I’m not talking about the big smoke stacks that we have out here on the island.  That is the Industrial Revolution type of manufacturing.  That’s not manufacturing anymore,” DiBella said, adding, “You can potentially have an announcement (for a project) in Yulee, I would say in the next three months.”

In addition to new health care, light manufacturing, corporate headquarters, retail and restaurant businesses, DiBella said information technology is another industry that could be coming.

“As far as a data center front, we have a certified data center site that is still kind of being eyeballed right now in Yulee at Nassau Crossing industrial (park) site,” DiBella said.

DiBella explained why she could not go into specific details about the economic projects coming to the area.

“There’s a cloak of secrecy surrounding what we do and who we talk to, and largely that is for the safety of the company itself and its competition,” she said.

“Oftentimes you’re dealing with companies making major decisions that will, if it’s a move … then things are highly secretive because until a final decision is made, nobody wants to, essentially, rock the boat with their employees, with their investors or with anything and risk losing critical workforce because of something that is an unknown still – fear of people losing their jobs or having to relocate or something like that.  We try to control the rumor mill.  That’s what it really boils down to.

“And also these companies are public, like Rayonier Advanced Materials and Borregaard, both of them are public companies.  They need to control the information that goes out before they themselves release it for public purposes,” DiBella said, adding that a company’s competition also plays a role.

“Nobody wants their competition to know really what they’re doing because, heaven forbid, their competition is going to get ahead of them.  There really is a very rational reason why we have to keep things quiet.  I wish we didn’t because I would love to tell everybody, ‘Oh my gosh, do you know who we’re talking to right now?’”

And Yulee is only one of DiBella’s focus areas for the county’s next economic venture.  DiBella said that she’s also trying to land a big economic project for the west side of the county, specifically at the Crawford Diamond.

“It is my goal, my personal goal, to land a big project on the west side, on the Crawford Diamond site,” DiBella said.  “That site is really – to use a pun – a diamond in the rough. … It’s one of the best sites in the country, and I can say that from a real estate standpoint because that’s my background – commercial real estate.”

Some of the advantages that make the Crawford Diamond a “rare” site are its size and its close proximity to railroads, ports and major roadways like Interstates 95 and 10, according to DiBella.

In addition to discussing economic projects coming to Nassau County, DiBella also explained the role of the Nassau County Economic Development Board.

“The Nassau County Economic Development Board is a public-private partnership funded in part by county and municipal government funds and private funding through individual donations (from) corporate or all the way down to a single individual’s (donation).  The mix is about – I would say – 65 percent private (donations) and the rest public funding.  It used to be 50-50, but now our private investment is growing as we continue to grow,” DiBella said.

“To put it simply, I would say we are the chief marketing arm for the business community both outside and inside for Nassau County.  So we’re often thought of as recruiters, which that is a big function of what we do – marketing and recruiting Nassau County as a place to do business.  Equally, we are the conduit for any sort of business needs for companies that are already located here from expansion efforts, retention efforts, workforce coordination, whatever it may be.  So anything that involves business here in Nassau County, we are somewhat of a touch point for that.”

In order to get businesses to invest in Nassau County, DiBella said that the Economic Development Board reaches out to businesses using “web-driven marketing efforts” and by “physically going to see them, participating in conferences and engaging and forming relationship with site selectors and those that are responsible for guiding these corporate entities to make big decisions.

“Our outreach is pretty broad.  We often get the question at times: How do you differ from the Chamber (of Commerce)?  And I think we’re really swinging the bat big on the large corporate, large manufacturing and larger-scale type of operations that are out there … and targeting certain companies that we think would be ideal for here,” DiBella said.

She added that the quality of life in Nassau County is another selling point to get businesses to invest in the area.

“The trends are pointing toward – and they have been for a while – toward development of (a) ‘live, work and play’ atmosphere. … Commuting is becoming less and less attractive,” DiBella said.  “Being able to live within minutes and work within minutes of each other and have all of the amenities at your fingertips, we’re becoming very accustomed to that as a society and I think it’s only going to grow from an attraction standpoint.  It’s encouraging and I’m grateful that Nassau County has the foresight … to accept and adopt a plan that will incorporate a lifestyle like that.”


Written by Eric Gutierrez, News Leader