For more than 100 years, Weyerhaeuser has worked to become the world’s premier timber, land and forest products company. Following that road has led them to become a significant presence in economic development in Florida and in the United States.
Rosemary Fagler, Manager of Economic Development with Weyerhaeuser, markets development properties ranging from residential to industrial across the company’s portfolio. She said Florida needs to improve its ability to attract new businesses through incentives.
“You have to want to be in Florida in order to come to Florida. It is not a state that knows how to recruit the larger companies here if they are competing against other states or other countries,” Fagler said. “If you’ve got a company that is coming to the state of Florida, it needs to be here for one reason or another. Its customer base is here, it has a supplier that is here or maybe they want to take advantage of the ports.”
Fagler said compared to other states, Florida is behind in terms of economic development because it doesn’t maximize the amenities that it offers. She listed Florida’s 14 deep-water ports, rail infrastructure, roadway infrastructure and lack of state income tax as potential sellers to businesses considering relocating to Florida.
“You think about the access that our state provides and yet we’re not utilizing the ability to capitalize on our rural proximity to urban and our rural proximity to amazing infrastructure. We’re just not leveraging that like other states are,” Fagler said. “It’s a shame because Florida, just by its shape, its climate, its rate of growth and all of the infrastructure that it has, should be leading in economic development as well as exporting.”
Weyerhaeuser has two projects underway in Florida, the North Florida Mega Industrial Park in Lake City and Hawthorne Industry Park in Hawthorne. These projects will create economic opportunity for the residents of the two cities and its surrounding areas.
“We have a heart for rural economic development. Part of that is because we are the largest private landowner in the world, so we own a lot of rural [properties]. We have 13 million acres in 20 states,” Fagler said. “A lot of times, rural communities don’t have an opportunity to participate in economic development because a large portion of their community is in agriculture.”
According to Weyerhaeuser, the 500-acre core of the Lake City site is designated as a 14-county catalyst site and is certified as a CSX Select Site. From both locations, a company can access Interstates 10 and 75, and all of Florida’s 14 deep-water ports. CSX’s main north/south freight line through Florida borders the eastern portion of the Hawthorne site. The site is also bordered by U.S. 301 which is Florida’s internal highway connecting Jacksonville to Tampa.
“I’m excited that the state is focusing on the attention that rural Florida needs,” Fagler said. “There has been so much investment into our ports and in order to get a return on investment, you need to have major employers that are willing to produce something that will be exported out of those ports and not just use those ports as an import.”
Since 2010, Florida has created more than 1.4 million private sector jobs and 1 in every 10 jobs in the U.S. In 2018, the Florida Chamber’s Chief Economist, Dr. Jerry Parrish, predicts Florida will become a $1 trillion economy. While Florida has an economic outlook with much to look forward to, the fact is that several states and nations are targeting the same high-wage industries. We must continue to signal that Florida is open for business and ready for economic development.
“I think we are at a crossroad in Florida. Our state is growing. You look at that and people are coming here right now because they like the Florida lifestyle,” Fagler said. “If we can’t take advantage of who we are as a state and the international access that we have and then diversify that employment base, then we are going to be a service-based state. A service-based state won’t be able to survive.”
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