Week of September 4, 2000
  Blockbuster Deal of the Week
   from Site Selection's exclusive New Plant database

BellSouth Picks Clay County, Fla., for 1,000-Employee, $35 Million Customer Service Center

All the strategic pieces clicked in the recent decision by Atlanta-based BellSouth (www.bellsouth.com) to locate a 1,000-employee, US$35 million customer service center in Clay County, Fla.

BellSouth -- which recently announced that it has chosen Miami as the site of the first network access point built in the United States since 1996 (see "Blockbuster Deal of the Week" for week of Aug. 14) -- will build the customer service operation on a 30.5-acre (12.2-ha.) site. The acreage is in Fleming Island Plantation, a 2,300-acre (920-ha.) mixed-use project developed near U.S. 17 by Centex Homes (www.centex.com).

The facility will provide support services, including maintenance and provisioning of wholesale service, to other "competitive local exchange carriers" that are BellSouth partners, officials explained.

Located on acreage just south of the city of Orange Park, the facility will reach its target employment of "at least" 1,000 employees over a five-year span, BellSouth officials explained. By yearend 2001, BellSouth hopes to have 350 or more employees trained and working in the first facility at the site. Long-term plans call for building four facilities on the Clay County campus.

"Phase one will ramp up beginning in the next few months," said BellSouth Operations Director Ron Brooks, who will oversee project implementation and direct the operations center when it opens. "Our plan is to initially purchase 15.5 acres (6.2 ha.) of land with a one-year option on the adjacent 15 acres (six ha.)," Brooks added.

BellSouth looked at sites "all over" the Southeastern U.S., company officials commented. Three sites in nearby Jacksonville were among the locations that were considered, as well as another tract in Clay County, they said.

The Fleming Island Plantation site got the nod, though. Here's how the pieces fit together for the various parties that were involved in the deal:

Skilled Supply Meets
BellSouth's Labor Needs

As with virtually every U.S. location project, fitting the labor bill was a major concern for BellSouth. Clay County's combination of skilled labor and high quality of life was a major factor swaying BellSouth's decision, officials commented.

"The availability of top-notch personnel and the great quality of life, both here and in the surrounding First Coast area . . . just can't be matched elsewhere," commented Rande Le Fevre, BellSouth manager of corporate affairs (who is also vice chairman of the Clay Country Economic Development Council at www.expandinjax.com).

Clay County's quality of life has also helped create a growing work force. The county's population of 142,018 residents (as of yearend 1999) is projected to grow by 8.2 percent through 2004. Nearby colleges also helped make the labor piece of the puzzle fit, BellSouth officials noted. St. Johns River Community College and Florida Community College will provide training for the new operation's skilled positions.

Brooks encouraged individuals interested in applying for the new positions to go to the BellSouth Web site.

Incentives Extend over 10-Year Span

BellSouth officials didn't cite incentives as part of their location rationale, but Clay County's subsidies certainly couldn't have hurt.

The incentives plan, said Clay County Commission officials, would provide BellSouth with an annual grant that would run for as long as 10 years. The grant will take effect after the company has built a permanent facility that creates at least 100 new positions that provide salaries that are at least 115 percent of Florida's statewide average. (BellSouth officials say that the new Clay County jobs will have an "average weighted annual salary [of] approximately $40,000.")

The incentives grant, Clay County Commission officials explained, would provide BellSouth with a 75 percent property tax rebate for the first five years after the company has achieved its local-area employment and salary targets. For the next five years, the property tax rebate would drop to 50 percent. Local officials estimated that the total incentive package will be worth some $1.9 million.

Project Should Ease Infrastructure Strain

BellSouth's Clay County operation should also ease strain on the area's infrastructure. And in more ways than one.

For example, the new jobs should ease commuting woes. Currently, an estimated 60 percent of Clay County residents commute to work in Jacksonville. That, in turn, has created rush-hour gridlock, particularly on U.S. 17, which runs north to Jacksonville.

BellSouth said it expects to fill most of the new positions with residents of Clay and Duval counties - many of them already working, but attracted by the prospect of working closer to home.

In addition, the BellSouth project will facilitate the development of new infrastructure in Clay County.

Currently, only some 30 percent of the county's property tax revenues come from businesses, according to local officials' estimates. As a result, the county has had limited capital available to fund growth-driven needs for infrastructure improvement, they explained.

BellSouth's projected 1,000 new jobs will significantly improve the revenue situation, officials said. Currently, the county's No. 1 employer is Orange Park Medical Center, with 900 employees, followed by Gustafson's Dairy Products, with 350 employees.

Regionalism Ratified

Finally, the BellSouth/Clay County hookup provided emphatic reinforcement for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Cornerstone regional marketing program (also at www.expandinjax.com).

The Cornerstone initiative promotes the entire Northeast Florida region, which, in addition to Clay and Duval counties, includes Baker, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

"[The BellSouth project] is a direct result of this partnership with Jacksonville," Ken Smallwood, an Orange Park real estate broker and also a member of the Clay County Economic Development Council, told the Florida Times-Union (www.times-union.com). "This is the first big payoff of the partnership." Clay County joined the Cornerstone initiative in 1998. The county pays some $50,000 a year to be part of the combined regional marketing effort, Clay officials explained.

With the BellSouth project, the area looks like it's reaping a rich payback on its investment.

©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.