Georgia-Pacific acquired the mill, which was founded in 1947 by Hudson Pulp and Paper, in 1979, when Hudson was making products such as Kraft paper and tissue that aligned with Georgia-Pacific’s business strategy. In the Palatka area, Georgia-Pacific has about 1,400 employees, according to the Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership.
The company’s most recent years in the area have been defined by surviving the economic downturn.
“We have about the same number of employees that we had prerecession,” said Kelly Ferguson, Georgia-Pacific’s public affairs and communications director. “Some people were laid off, but all of those positions have come back to the mill.”
Although sacrifices were made during tough times, Ferguson said Georgia-Pacific’s long-term investment in the community never suffered.
“We focused very aggressively on managing our costs,” he said. “We made sure we maintained our competitive position so our products were considered by customers.”
Putnam County is strategically a good location, Ferguson said, because of the timber supply and the highway system’s access to Interstates 10, 75 and 95.
As the most industrialized rural county in Florida, Putnam also offers a low cost of doing business and a high level of personal service, according to Cornerstone.
“Part of our success has been the support we get from the community as a major manufacturer,” Ferguson said.
According to a 2010 report by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, manufacturing made up 11.9 percent of Putnam County’s labor, as compared with 4.5 percent for the state. The average annual wage for manufacturing in the county was $50,820, compared with the state’s average of $50,094.
“For us to be paid consistently more than the state average, you have to produce that value,” said Alex McCoy, vice president of economic development for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
McCoy said the quality of the county’s blue-collar manufacturing workforce in addition to a prime location and state incentives makes Putnam one of the most cost-effective locations in the state for businesses to relocate.
“We’re happy to do light manufacturing, but there’s a large presence of heavy manufacturing already in the community, which is how we stand out,” he said.
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Because the state has dubbed Putnam County as a Rural Enterprise Zone, a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern and a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, tax incentives, including a property tax credit and sales tax refunds for building materials and business equipment, are offered to companies that create employment within the area, McCoy said.
But residents in Putnam are not just relying on state incentives to attract business.
Through a 1-cent local option sales tax, the community raised enough money to build a 51,200-square-foot speculative building in Putnam County’s business park.
“When we’re willing to tax ourselves to pay for something, that’s a sign of a truly progressive community,” McCoy said.
The park also has about 150 acres available for development. At press time, PRC, an inbound call center, was the park’s only tenant.
McCoy is working to change that by working alongside Dana Jones, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, to promote the county’s other assets — such as natural beauty, quality of life and charm — that come with being a rural community.
“We’re close to all of those big-city things,” Jones said, “with the convenience of a rural lifestyle.”
Jacksonville Business Journal