Florida: Where Success Stories are Blooming

28 Nov, 2012

By Sharon H. Fitzgerald

Florida’s economy is picking up “across the board,” and the state’s favorable business climate is one of the reasons why, says Gray Swoope, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida Inc., the state’s economic development agency.

For the current 2013 fiscal year, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranked Florida’s business tax climate No. 5 in the nation. “In the highly competitive Southeastern United States, Florida ranked first,” Swoope adds. “With our cost of doing business, that’s one of the reasons we see activity in our state.”

Swoope pointed to two recent project announcements in Florida as proof of the state’s desirability. In October, Gov. Rick Scott announced the selection of Miami-Dade County as the location for a new Univision/ABC television network, representing a $274.52 million capital investment and creating 346 jobs. The new English-language TV news network will target the growing Hispanic market and be headquartered at the Univision studios in Doral.

Also, last spring, Mindtree Ltd., a global IT and product-engineering company, selected Gainesville as the site for its United States expansion. The project will bring 400 new high-tech jobs over the next five years and require a nearly $3 million capital investment in the heart of the city. Mindtree officials chose Gainesville to be near the University of Florida and its Department of Engineering. “Our public universities and our private universities are all working together with local economic developers to help provide a talent pipeline for the workforce not only today but for the future,” Swoope says.

Enterprise Florida has been working to strengthen relationships with local economic-development partners in the state’s 67 counties, and Swoope says the renewed cooperation is creating jobs. “Our team has really solidified and really focused on not only telling our story, but also delivering,” he says. “So, we’ve seen success in the last year on winning competitive projects.”

Industries and Innovations

Aerospace and aviation remains a strong Florida sector, with more than 2,000 companies employing more than 83,000 people. Florida is home to nearly every aviation defense contractor and many U.S. military installations. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach teaches the science, practice and business of the industry and offers students opportunities to be involved in applied, solution-oriented research, many times in conjunction with future employers. Also, Swoope says Embry-Riddle develops curriculum tailored to the needs of industry partners. Vero Beach is home to Piper Aircraft Inc., which celebrates its 75 anniversary this year.  “They are our largest private player,” says Helene Caseltine, economic development director of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. “They have more than 700 people working there.” In July, Piper announced that revenue has been “sustaining a solid, upward performance trajectory for the past two and a half years.”

Moving west across the state to the Gulf of Mexico side is Hernando County and the Hernando County Airport and Business Complex, a 2,400-acre development, home to 110 companies and more than 2,000 employees.

The development, located 30 miles north of Tampa International Airport, naturally targets aerospace and aviation-related firms, but is also home to a variety of companies, many of which comprise the supply chain for aerospace and aviation firms. For instance, Airdyne Aerospace Inc., a manufacturer of seats and doors for C-130 aircraft, moved to the airport’s business complex because many of the parts used in the company’s manufacturing process were made at the site. “It is easier to oversee quality control, and much easier for shipping to have the parts manufactured right here,” says Don Silvernell, airport manager.

Another company manufactures aircraft safety equipment at the park. The product features LED lighting and cabling, both of which are items manufactured by other firms located in the business complex.

The Hernando County airport development offers a rail served park and a corporate air park, both of which feature available sites. The main industrial park is fully leased at this time. “We have large parcels of land, and air side parcels that can be the home to manufacturers, major suppliers, training facilities and MRO facilities,” adds Kim Poppke, marketing and property coordinator at the airport.

Moving to other clusters in the state, the financial services industry is making a comeback in Florida, Swoope says, and activity in the life sciences is picking up steam. For example, SteriPack, an international manufacturer of flexible medical packaging, chose Lakeland in May as the site of its first high-tech manufacturing operation in the United States. SteriPack is on its way to hiring 65 employees. The capital investment is $7 million, says Mark McDuff, senior business development manager for the Central Florida Development Council. In the Polk County region, this year has seen:

  • A new Mission Foods facility, with 133 jobs and a capital investment of $23 million.
  • An expansion of the Coca-Cola operation in Auburndale, representing a $99 million investment and creating 60 new jobs.
  • An expansion of Sykes Enterprises’ customer contact center in Lakeland, eventually adding up to 700 jobs.
  • An expansion of food distributor MBM Corp. in Haines City, adding 98 jobs.

And that’s not all. “All total this year alone, we’re looking at company announcements that have resulted in the creation of well over 600 jobs and capital investment of more than $160 million in Polk County,” McDuff says.

Harold Gallup is economic development director for the city of Lake Wales in Polk County, and he adds that green industries are carving a niche in Central Florida. The newest success is Reneu Energy, which plans to employ 63 people in the next 18 months. Reneu specializes in high-efficiency lighting for roadways.

By the end of this year, the doors will open at INEOS New Planet BioEnergy in Indian River County. This waste-to-ethanol operation will employ about 55 people and invest $130 million in the facility, located adjacent to the landfill. “INEOS will be using anything that’s carbon-based, but they will first be starting out with just vegetative waste,” Caseltine explains. The facility is right off I-95 for easier distribution of the ethanol, she adds.

Talent and Education

“Our workforce training program is one of the best in the country, and the community colleges are a key to it,” says Swoope, noting that Workforce Florida Inc., the state’s partnership for workforce training, provides programs to help existing and new companies recruit, train and maintain skills and keep pace with new technologies. Those programs include Quick Response Training and Incumbent Worker Training. In September, U.S. News & World Report ranked Indian River State College as the 10th top public regional college in the South.

Under construction in Lakeland is the state’s first polytechnic higher education institution, Florida Polytechnic University. “That will be a big economic driver for us, because they are going to be focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” McDuff says. “Their educational model is applied learning, so they will be very interested in partnering with businesses and engaging their students with business to apply what they’re learning in college.” In May, Polk County business and government leaders announced Florida Poly Vision, an organization showing its support for the new university.

Another unique higher education initiative in the state is the Florida Economic Gardening Institute at University of Central Florida. Found in 2009, the Florida Economic Gardening Institute and its GrowFL program have boosted economic output by $510 million and helped create 3,285 jobs. GrowFL is an economic-development initiative designed to help second-stage businesses. The program offers technical assistance to advance sales.


It’s no surprise that Florida experts cite location and logistical benefits as a top business asset. Florida boasts one of the world’s most extensive multi-modal transportation systems, what with international airports, deepwater shipping ports, highway and rail networks and even several hubs for high-speed data transmission from the United States to Europe, Latin America and Africa. In fact, the state is recognized as one of the top five telecomm hubs in the world.

Even in central Florida, location is a strength, halfway between the population centers of Orlando and Tampa Bay. Access to two international airports “gives us global connectivity” and access to the Port of Tampa and Port Canaveral to the east, McDuff says. CSX is expanding its intermodal operation in central Florida at State Route 60, and Lake Wales’ Gallup says it’s a construction project that Florida businesses have been waiting for. “We see a lot of positive things coming, they’re just not going to happen overnight,” he says.

There’s also room to grow in Florida, and many communities have business and industrial sites ready to go. The Longleaf Business Park in Lake Wales is an example. The master-planned park is fully permitted for development. “We can get a 50,000-square-foot building up in 180 days there, from the time plans are approved to the time they can move in,” Gallup says. There are also plans for development at the Lake Wales Airport.

The eastern coast, thanks to Interstate 95 and ocean access, is a logistical dream, says Caseltine. I-95 is why CVS Pharmacy located a massive distribution center in Indian River County seven years ago, and it’s still thriving. Indian River County boasts Vero Beach Municipal Airport, where Piper Aircraft is located. A 4.5-square-mile enterprise zone encompasses the airport and the Gifford community just to the north, where high unemployment rates offer business opportunity.


“The quality of life here is second to none,” Swoope says. “It’s a place that people want to live. There is no problem recruiting talent to Florida.”

With an annual high temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit and an annual low temperature of 60, Florida’s climate is a plus. And then there are Florida’s renowned beaches. On top of that, the state has 1,300 golf courses.

For complete details on conducting business in Florida, visit:






Florida has no personal income tax and no state property tax.

The state’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund is available for companies that create high-wage jobs in certain industries. Refunds may be on corporate income, sales, ad valorem, intangible personal property, insurance premium and other taxes.

Florida gives defense, homeland security and space business contractors a competitive edge. Pre-approved applicants that create or retain jobs may receive tax refunds of $3,000 per job and $6,000 in an enterprise zone or rural county.

Florida’s “Road Fund” offers up to $3 million to local governments working to land a new business or help an existing business expand.

Florida has no corporate income tax on limited partnerships.


American genius Thomas Edison put down roots in Fort Myers in 1885 and planted a four-foot banyan tree. Today, that tree is an acre in diameter, and it’s one of more than 1,000 plants from around the world that grow on this 25-acre estate. Edison’s home is a beautiful indoor and outdoor museum.

Illustration by renjith krishnan at Free Digital Photos.net

Sharon Fitzgerald

Sharon Fitzgerald is a freelance writer from Murfreesboro, Tenn. She can be reached at fitzcomm@comcast.net.

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