County Budget Workshop Includes Economic Development

St. Johns Commissioners Review Economic Development Budget

It’s budget workshop season in St. Johns County and commissioners spent a week earlier this month in a series of meetings to begin the process of putting together the county’s budget for the next fiscal year. Included in the mix was a presentation on the upcoming economic development efforts, starting with the status of the search for new department director.

“We’re going to build a new department,” said Colin Groff, deputy county administrator, in his presentation to commissioners.

Groff said the county is using an outside recruiting firm in the search for a new director of economic development. “They’re evaluating now,” he said, “and will give us a short list.”

The budget request includes $1.88 million for current and projected economic development rebates; $214,000 for contractual services with organizations including JAXUSA, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center; and $2.5 million for an approved impact fee buy-down.

Groff said the budget request includes $100,000 to kick off a new initiative to attract new business development to the county.

“We want to start being proactive,” he said. “It’s us going and recruiting them before they know they need to expand.”

Groff said the department will use “some technology, some knowledge that we’ve gained” to target companies that are ready to expand but have not yet started to look at opportunities.

“If we can get in front of them quickly and help them move forward, I think it’s going to be a huge benefit,” he said. “Not too many other people are doing it.”

County Administrator Joy Andrews said using technology and data as part of the economic development effort can also lead to the creation of new opportunities with local colleges and universities.

“We have reached out to UNF and UF,” she said. “I think both are interested in becoming our strategic partners when it comes to business recruitment.”

Andrews said the partnerships can also provide students a chance to work on real-world projects.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to actually apply their knowledge into the community,” she said.

Groff said the county is also refining its targeted industries list making it more based on the state of the economy and on the county’s needs.

Another potential opportunity is to work with neighboring counties to jointly pursue new business development contacts, where one county would house a production or warehousing facility and St. Johns County would house office facilities.

“We’re changing our target to say, ‘Why don’t we get the corporate offices?’” he said. “We partner with other counties … to bring these big companies in. We have a lot of things to attract those corporate offices.”

Groff said since the state of Florida “is not great on business incentives like other states,” it’s up to the county to adopt different ways to attract businesses to expand or relocate in St. Johns.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of get them permitted fast, get them open fast,” he said. “If you can do that, it’s the biggest incentive anybody needs.”