he legacy of Duke Energy’s economic development efforts in Florida goes back nearly 125 years, beginning with the founding of Florida Power Corporation in 1899. Look through the pages of this very magazine’s September 1954 issue and there’s an ad from predecessor Florida Power Corp. signed by its industrial development department director W. B. Shenk with a promise of VIP treatment. “To us it means Very Important Power,” the copy says. “It means individualized information not only on our power rates but other pertinent facts that will prove most convincing on why you should locate YOUR plant in our territory.”
Marc Hoenstine, Managing Director, Economic Development, Duke Energy Florida
Marc Hoenstine, the managing director of economic development for Duke Energy Florida who was honored last year as the Florida Economic Development Council’s Eunice Sullivan Economic Developer of the Year, loves researching that history nearly as much as he loves his state. He even found an old Florida Power Corp. scrapbook on eBay that documents interactions between the industrial development team and communities.
“Back then, after World War II, the utilities were really investing in helping people go electric,” he says. “You saw all these appliance stores popping up, owned by the utility, and you could go there and buy your electric washer and dryer and other appliances.”
Residential development soon morphed into commercial and industrial development and finally a more full-fledged economic development effort in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“We have a great story in Florida,” Hoenstine says. “We’ve been doing economic development since the 1940s and doing it in a way that’s really set up the initiatives you see today in Florida’s ecosystem.”
Growth All Around Sparks Growth Within
The ecosystem has evolved, to say the least.
Danielle Ruiz, Director, Economic Development Industry Recruitment, Duke Energy Florida
Today, Duke Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, owns 10,300 megawatts of energy capacity, supplying electricity to 1.9 million residential, commercial and industrial customers across a 13,000-square-mile service area in a state that just saw its non-farm workforce of nearly 9.6 million surpass New York’s for the first time since 1982. A February report from the state says the Florida population has passed 22 million and could top 25 million by 2032.
If you’re Duke Energy Florida, it’s a great time to boost the population of your economic development team. That’s meant nearly quadrupling the team from three to 11. “It’s ambitious and unlike anything we’ve done before,” Hoenstine says, with particular focus on product development (sites), the utility’s pioneering Site Readiness program and marketing. The team was part of more than 80 events in 2022.
“If you go back to 2013, it was just me,” he says. In 2014, Danielle Ruiz, now the team’s director of economic development industry recruitment, joined the squad. In 2018, Elizabeth Godwin signed on and is now senior manager of economic development industry recruitment. Together they served the 35 Florida counties Duke Energy touches and beyond, as so much of their work coincides with efforts by the state and by other jurisdictions.
“We were three individuals covering the entire state the best we could,” Hoenstine says. “We were Jacks and Janes of all trades — board seats, proposals, pitches, sales trips. Now we have subject matter experts on all of these things. We can help the communities because we are an extension of their team. We are using data in a more compelling way.”
“I help people figure out the answers to tricky questions and how to use data to better inform our decisions,” says Ben Friedman, economic development research manager for Duke Energy Florida. “Sometimes it means helping a community better understand what’s in its backyard, sometimes it’s helping figure out what industries we should recruit, and sometimes it’s random information we need fast.”
Duke Energy is using its money in compelling ways too, operating a number of grant programs that can inject capital to keep a community’s economic development office afloat or support the creation of a strategic plan. Such efforts are helped by a Florida Public Service Commission rule that allows utilities to recover costs when they perform economic development work to support the communities they serve. “It decreases the rate overall,” says Hoenstine. “It’s a win-win all around. Our public service commission said, ‘This is a good thing. Let’s give them a mechanism to make this happen.’ We’re encouraged to be doing this, and kind of need to be doing this.”
Peveeta Samuel, Senior Economic Development Manager - Programs and Compliance, Duke Energy Florida, knows community needs and programming well, having come to the economic development team from the Duke Energy Foundation.
Asked how the expanded team is able to respond more effectively, Ruiz says, “The site selection process is becoming more and more competitive relying heavily on data and localized community stories. With our Industry Recruitment team focused on growth, we are able to strategically target specific industries where we have an existing industry base and a workforce to support a company’s expansion and to tell the story of clusters and attributes to support their success. Our enhanced economic development team has added one additional person to work projects, which has allowed us to be closer to the communities we serve by being located geographically in the regions, living and working in our coverage areas. Our North Florida coverage is stronger and has allowed us to be more present on boards and committees and closer to these community partners to support programs to increase their competitive offerings for projects.”
The support for state economic development goals is evident too.
“Agreed,” says Ruiz. “We have a tremendously strong synergy with the Enterprise Florida team. Our localized knowledge of our territory allows us to be an extended team to both our state and local partners, getting our Duke Energy–served communities in the mix for project responses and company consideration. We are also proud members of Team Florida, a statewide marketing organization facilitated by Enterprise Florida, created to share Florida’s assets through in-market missions and data on Florida’s business climate. I am proud to be elected to the Team Florida Board of Directors as of September 2022. We have seen direct benefits of the partnership, allowing us to build upon relationships and sharing the story of Florida and Duke Energy’s service territory with real estate brokers, site selection consultants and companies directly.”
Laura DiBella, Florida Secretary of Commerce and President & CEO of Enterprise Florida
In 2022, Enterprise Florida successfully enabled, competed for and accelerated 54 company relocations/expansions, with a projected 7,968 jobs and $1.28 billion in capital investment (12,564 jobs and $2.5 billion in state fiscal year 2021-2022).
“All of Florida’s utility companies play an integral role in the growth and vitality of our state’s economy,” says Florida Secretary of Commerce and President and CEO of Enterprise Florida Laura DiBella. “As the driver behind much of industry’s decision making in terms of attraction and expansion, working in lockstep with proactive and nimble partners is absolutely critical to our success. Economic development is a true team effort and our team at Enterprise Florida is proud to work alongside our state’s utility partners to provide the most comprehensive support to companies looking to relocate and expand in Florida.”
An Orlando Per Year
John Fremstad, Director, Innovation & Competitiveness, Duke Energy Florida Economic Development
The new report from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research says that for the period from April 1, 2023, to April 1, 2027, population growth over the prior year is expected to average 304,311 net new residents per year (834 per day). “These increases are analogous to adding a city about the size of Orlando every year,” the report says. That means a market for companies and for people who want to work and live in a vibrant place that’s getting younger and more innovative by the day.
“I moved to Florida right out of college, drawn by the beautiful water of the Gulf Coast,” says Ruiz. “And I quickly learned how much more we have to offer in addition to the excellent quality of life. I had the opportunity to join the state’s workforce board and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career, supporting workforce development and linking job seekers with employers for open opportunities. Following that role, I got into local economic development. These foundational roles helped me to understand the business make-up of the area and meet the tremendous company leaders making the region attractive to new and expanding employers.”
Sometimes those new companies are new to the world, not just new to Florida. Which explains why the Duke Energy team has gone in its own new direction with a new innovation and competitiveness arm, led by John Fremstad, a former executive for a global Fortune 500 construction/general contracting company.
“We were always really good at the mature companies that had the funding and big projects,” Hoenstine says. “But we never focused on the entrepreneurship and innovation side of it from an economic development perspective. John is focused on that and on keeping these firms in Florida.
“It’s another area where we’re having an impact on all of Florida and not just in our territory,” says Lisa Rain, marketing manager for Duke Energy Florida Economic Development. “A rising tide lifts all boats. If these companies can grow here and attract more companies, we will see the benefits of that.”
Fremstad himself was attracted by the new momentum.
“I’m a complete definition of ‘location of choice,’ ” he says. “I had no need to move from Hawai’i, but the opportunity was too big to pass up. Florida offers innovators, builders, investors and their families an incredible landscape to be successful.
“If you’re a history buff, it reminds me of 1960s California,” Fremstad says. “If you’re a dreamer, a creator, a difference-maker, you’re figuring out how to be here.”
Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.