Economic Development: Groundhog Day – The Movie All Over Again

Unlike the ”other” ED, there is no magic blue pill for Economic Development.

Palm Coast, FL – January 26, 2011 – Next Monday evening, Flagler County will host an Intergovernmental Workshop to "Discuss Economic Development." County officials will present their vision of economic growth along with representatives from the Town of Beverly Beach, City of Bunnell, City of Flagler Beach, Town of Marineland, City of Palm Coast, Enterprise Flagler, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Flagler County School Board. They hope to find some common ground on which to build a comprehensive economic development plan. Don’t hold your breath.
Just look at Wednesday’s News-Journal; "Palm Coast, county disagree on economic development." A News-Tribune story on the same day is headed with "County, city remain at odds over water-sewer agreement for airport site." And that’s just one day’s worth of political posturing leading up to next week’s summit. Palm Coast’s demand to annex the county airport land on which the National Guard plans a new facility in return for supplying water and sewer services is preposterous. We should not allow jobs and their accompanying economic stimulus fall victim to political egos. Too many dogs pissing on too many trees, I say.
Flagler County (inclusive of all governmental entities) faces two issues. Flagler has the second highest unemployment rate among Florida’s counties. Less than 1 percent of its property tax base is classified as industrial. We need more industrial and commercial buildings and the jobs that go with them. Clearly something has to be done, but I don’t expect Monday’s workshop to result in meaningful progress towards a solution. The agenda allows a fixed amount of time for each participant to present their ED view, followed by thirty minutes of public comment. Follow-on meetings are planned.
The past predicts the future: Flagler’s Economic Development Groundhog Day
From a Florida Trend magazine article about Flagler County:
"The comprehensive plan recommends that 2.5 to 4 percent of developed land be commercial. Commercial users, it suggests, should be encouraged to develop in clusters or concentrations so as to minimize congestion along major thoroughfares and to prevent strip commercial development."
"Proposed industrial land uses are in the vicinity of the Bunnell Airport and along U.S. 1 north of Bunnell. Flagler County is already wooing industry with a 1,100-acre industrial park next to the airport."
Except for the dated reference to the "Bunnell" Airport, this piece could have been written last week. It was published in December 1974; 36 years ago. My, how time flies.
A Home Run vs. a Bunt Singles
Some of our elected officials and community leaders seem to think that economic development means hitting home runs (the blue pill); Fortune 500 companies. Distribution centers for Walmart or Target are examples of missed opportunities. This strategy poses several problems as well as risks to the community. Over dependence on a single large employer is unhealthy. Remember the fear caused by a Palm Coast Data’s possible departure? Plus, we simply don’t have the financial wherewithal to lure the big fish. If we get lucky and land one, great, but big fish should not be our priority.
What does Palm Coast have to offer a potential "home run" prospect? Certainly not low priced land or inexpensive buildings. However, our unique combination of location (half way between the Orlando and Jacksonville markets combined with Interstate and rail proximity could prove to be a deciding factor. Sea Ray was attracted by the Intracoastal Waterway and old Lehigh Cement plant canal.
Economic development helps the entire area, not just the jurisdiction in which a facility is built. Employees will likely choose to live nearby, but not necessarily in the same town or city as their workplace. The same is true for where they will shop. Government officials and staff need to work together. Unfortunately, the County vs. City wound continues to fester to our continuing embarrassment. No plan for economic development can succeed unless its focus is county-wide. I would hope for lots of smaller companies, some located in the cities, others in the county.
Flagler County is a Community at Large which encompasses cities and towns. But who are we? How are we perceived by others? What is our identity? What is our Brand? One county commissioner recently expressed his view that branding was not important. He is wrong. Our brand identifies us; good or bad. It makes us memorable.
A successful brand creates a positive perception. Unfortunately, local governments (particularly the City of Palm Coat) are no always perceived as being "business friendly." Palm Coast can point to occasional successes such as Palm Coast Data’s retention, but potential new businesses and existing businesses looking to expand say that they find the city difficult to work with.
  • Palm Coast’s impact fees are onerously high, not well defined, and capriciously administered.
  • Staff sometimes fails to understand the needs or resource limits of business owners. Those who enter the city offices for assistance with code or permit issues are not treated as customers. Rather than acting as a facilitator, the city is perceived as an adversarial impediment. "Try to make it work" has been replaced with "find a way to discourage it" or "how can we extract more fees?"
  • The City’s stance on stormwater management fees as applied to vacant land is without sound legal foundation and will be viewed as yet another reason for businesses to avoid locating or expanding here.
On one hand, City Manager Jim Landon touts a new city hall as an economic development project claiming it will attract additional businesses to Town Center. On the other hand, he ignores the effect the City’s move would have on the businesses currently located in City Marketplace.
Who are we?
For the simple need to gather comparative economic and census numbers, Flagler County was recently elevated to the level of an MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area). It was designated as the Palm Coast MSA which encompasses all of Flagler County. Now, when I mention Hammock Beach, I say it is in Palm Coast, not Flagler County. How many people know what county Seattle is in? The area should be marketed asPalm Coast. This is not an abandonment of Flagler, just a branding/image reality.
In the early days of Palm Coast, ITT was unsuccessful recruiting Fortune 500 companies to come to the area. Palm Coast’s first successful recruits were smaller closely-held companies. Their owner/executives were attracted primarily to the area’s lifestyle; Whittman, American Radionics, ABB Ceag, HP Reid, ITM. They were followed later by ACI, a successful but low-profile software company.
Lifestyle: The Quiet Coast
We have an identity crisis. Enterprise Flagler is aligned with Cornerstone Economic Development Partnership (Jacksonville). The News-Journal comes from Daytona Beach. Our television news and weather are from Orlando. We are most often linked with Daytona Beach, part of the Fun Coast (area code 386 is FUN), but we remain the "tagalong." We are not represented in either Washington or Tallahassee by Flagler residents.
While we foster tourism, we are not an event driven economy like Daytona. People visit our area for the same reasons most of us chose to live here. We enjoy a quiet lifestyle; a comfortable climate with bountiful sunshine and miles of beautiful easily accessible beaches and salt water canals. We enjoy dozens of parks and preserves and miles of biking and hiking trails. Nowhere else is Interstate 95 closer to the beach than the Flagler Beach exit.
Lifestyle is our greatest asset. We should reach out to entrepreneurs or owners of existing businesses who would like to live in a warm, sunny climate within ten minutes of:
  • The plant or office
  • Golf courses
  • Miles of beaches
  • Miles of cycling and hiking trails
  • Parks and preserves
  • Canals and the Intracoastal Waterway
  • Excellent healthcare facilities
  • Award winning schools
Flagler’s Tourism Development Council TDC has called Palm Coast "the Quiet Side of Florida." I like the picture this phrase conveys, but it doesn’t evoke images of our miles of Atlantic beaches. I prefer "The Quiet Coast." or "Florida’s Quiet Coast."
Economic Development Cheerleader
Enterprise Flagler is often misunderstood and maligned. The recent failure to garner support for a ¼ mill tax referendum to fund economic development illustrated Enterprise Flagler’s public image, or branding, shortcomings. It should be replaced, I believe, with an entity aligned with neither the cities nor the county. The Chamber of Commerce is a likely choice.
The Chamber has succeeded in representing the county to the tourism industry. A similar structure could work where the Chamber coordinated economic development recruiting. The politically unaligned Chamber best represents the MSA. A Chamber Economic Development Council could begin to build the Palm Coast brand, to establish our unique identity and to begin to hit more singles.
Yesterday, Chamber Chairperson Lea Stokes urged Chamber members  to urge elected officials "to come together and agree on a strong economic development plan that leverages the strengths of each municipality while complementing the others in a collective manner." A permanent funding source for economic development will be necessary, but this issue should be addressed only when a structure has been agreed upon.
The Chamber provided a Sample Letter and Contact Information for Government Officials. Use the sample letter or compose your own thoughts, but please make your concerns known before Monday’s intergovernmental workshop.
The meeting is open to the public. It will be held at 5:30 P.M. at:
1769 E. Moody Bldvd.
Emergency Operations Center, Building 3
Bunnell, FL 32110-0787

8 replies
  1. Brad
    Brad says:

    Great article

    I agree with a lot of your points. There is no clear vision and focus for how each municipality can contribute to the economic development for the entire county. Likewise, Enterprise Flagler continues to make no sense and apparently just exists to employ a few embattled former execs and employees from other companies. Accountability and results have fallen short and enough is enough. I said before it was their worst mistake to even propose the tax thing which put them out under the microscope. And I completely agree that the Chamber makes perfect sense for doing whatever it is Enterprise Flagler does. The Chamber would likewise benefit more from growth in membership. As well, Palm Coast needs to get serious about truly being business-friendly.

    In terms of the baseball reference, homes runs are great but singles are what actually win games. The changing landscape of business today and where and how people work, offers unique opportunities for the area. Startups (the singles) obviously could benefit greatly from an area which offers much lower cost of living and better quality of life. Performing this work from business "hubs". Basically, take the Office Divvy model and expand it 10 times. Couple that with the "home runs" . . . a full-fledged Daytona Beach State College campus and increased convention attraction and you win yourself a "World Series". Just some thoughts.

  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    A Grand Slam can be Had !!!!

    I say "AMEN" to exactly what Toby is saying and Brad’s comments are right onj target, so I won’t repeat them, but, to say that thet are right on point!! The "grand slam" that I am talking about is Hammock Beach!!! This is our only potential "grand slam" and everyone in this county should be behind the growth of this resort into a tremendous worldclass destination resort. We need to make sure that the County Commissioners approve Reynolds/ Lubert Adler’s request for increased density and the right to build an oceanside hotel. Reynolds is one of the best worldclass property developers and anyone who has visited "Reynolds Plantation" in Greensboro, GA knows what I am speaking of. If Reynolds doesn’t get this approval, then they won’t exercise their option to buy the property and we will have missed out on the "opportunity of a lifetime". That opportunity is a "worldclass resort" that puts this county on the map from which we will have nationwide recognition. The increase in tourist dollars will be significant with increased tax revenues both from ad valorem and sales taxes. From this facility will come "singles" ( development of businesses that will support the resort). From that growth and recognition will come more people to live and work in the county and will help our flagging real estate, as well as our "worst-in-the-state" unemployment.This has to be our most important project and so much more will flow from that!!

    Ask yourself the question; "do you want to have a county that is growing and prospering with a worldclass resort as it’s main attraction or do you want a sleepy, dying area with a fledgling resort that is a "white elephant" ???

    Approving the Reynolds request sends the right signal to the Reynolds organization that the "government" will cooperate with them to turn Flagler County into a great place to have a business and is serious about "economic development" and not just give it the "lipservice" as it has up to this point.

    All you citizens of Flagler County, NOW is the time to get behind this and let your elected officials know we need positive action on this issue!!!

  3. Alex
    Alex says:


    Flagler and Palm Coast officials has no clue where to go and how. In fact they do not need industries to come, as they are here for retirement. Does not matter what they do it will not work as it does not come from the business thinking.
    So palm coast will never become industrially developed unless business people will rule the city and county and wanted to have jobs there.

  4. Richard Hamilton
    Richard Hamilton says:

    Good Point! some thoughts

    Dear Toby, your analysis about the lifestyle advantage of Flagler County is right on. In my career I was responsible multiple times for recommendations and decisions on where businesses should be located. The first question I always asked (not joking) was where did the key managers want to live. Then we did the usual economic analysis. (eg access to customers and supply chain. Availability of qualified workforce. cost of facilities to build and operate. Cost or relocation net of incentives.). Sometimes the economic analysis overrode the management preference, but I would guess that in at least 50% of decisions the key management got to go where they wanted. So my takeaway from that is Flagler County really has to nourish and sell its advantages to top management and their families (which would include our schools, as well as social, cultural and recreational opportunities). We have good logistics in our central position between Orlando and JAX, I95, rail and water. 1 to 1.5 hours to major airports is pretty good. Land, utilities, high speed internet is all easily available (as long as we dont get too restrictive in permitting and greedy in impact fees). and note that tax incentives are way down the list, unless they are to offset specific costs tht might be incurred for the relocation.

    Just some thoughts.

  5. Nicole Brose
    Nicole Brose says:


    Great article! Especially the part about branding. One of the best things I have heard lately is talk of truly branding this community-the Greatest Outdoors. I have lived in Flagler County for three years, and run the Flagler County Education Foundation, the direct support non-profit for Flagler Schools. What confuses me and you hit it right on the head, people talk as if they live in Flagler County not Palm Coast. Most attempts now talk about our county name when in fact let’s brand, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach, Marineland and Bunnell. They all have assets, for example, I have a horse and Bunnell is an amazing place for trail riding, boarding, lessons, even the Fairgrounds (which some don’t know even exists) hosts an array of rodeos, horse shows and can host more with some work. Where can you live to have the beach, biking trails, parks, horseback riding, boating, etc. within minutes! Let’s brand these areas separately but under one strong, cohesive economic engine. The meeting tomorrow is a good start. We have incredibly talented people in this area, (Richard Hamilton is one) some who before moving here were leaders in big business and their own trade. Let’s work together and I am sure with some great branding things can and will move forward!

  6. Edith Campins
    Edith Campins says:

    What we lack…

    We have to be realistic. We have no public transportation. no quick access to a major airport both Orlando and Jacksonville are approximately two hours away, no ready, well trained work force, all things that companies look for when making relocation decisions.
    Additionally, our water rates are high and our roads are already becoming crowded. As for amenities, we have no museums, opera, ballet, symphony, great shopping or restaurants, no large sport venues and for boating, unless you go to St. Augustine or Daytona you are limited to "linear" boating on the IW.
    We need a plan B.


  7. Jen Ingels
    Jen Ingels says:

    City-County ECO Dev: Toby On Target

    Toby, you have expressed my thoughts on the problems with the Palm Coast area and its lack of coordinated leadership and governmental bickering.
    It is interesting to note that Gov. Rick Scott will replace the State’s head of Enterprise Florida. Does that segue into our lack of forward movement here?
    I moved here in 2001 to be part of the planning staff leadership shaping of Flagler County and Palm Coast in 2001. It was a paradise then. Even though rural in many ways, the whole County possessed the Old Florida feeling with its beautiful natural vegetation. I was so impressed that Flagler County leaders had preserved the beach and many natural areas with dedicated/deeded parks.
    That was its attraction for me which caused me to turn down proffered planning positions with St Petersburg and Tallahassee. Community leader Paul Katz was always heard saying "Welcome to Paradise"! Sadly that is no longer the case.
    What made our area so appealing and unique was plundered in the heady days of high growth. The area’s originality and charm has gone by the wayside and the profiteers have moved on in one way or another.
    I loved it here. There are many things that my family and I still love here. But, to tell the truth, we are sometimes embarrassed to say we live here.
    Your idea of turning the leadership in growth and industry attraction to the Chamber has a lot of merit since the organization is run by people who make a living in industry and business and understand what is needed for successful community partnership and building. But, we must be careful to watch that some of the members who often acted as foxes in the hen house during those heady days do not take over the process which could result in no positive movement forward with our needed change in tax base. We need communicative and responsive business friendly bureaucrat and staffs that really welcome and foster the people who can help turn our economy around.
    Jen Ingels, Retired Palm Coast Long Range Planning Manager and Former Flagler County Planning and Zoning Director

  8. D W Ferguson
    D W Ferguson says:

    Econ Dev’l

    After attending the joint meeting on the 31 st, I offer the following—The number of politicians are excessive for the population represented.Surely, there are distinct interests from Flagler Beach to Bunnell and size (Palm Coast and Beverly Beach0. These should all have a ‘Voice" but not an equal seat at the table. Business growth can not be relied upon with politicians-They have a primary goal-stay popular enough to get re-elected.There will be persistent inertia If you continue to hold meetings, summits and verbal exchanges among 33 people. Business expansion is best achieved with Professional business stewardship. When tax or other county support is required to ‘land " a new prospect, then and only then should the policos get involved. Voice and opinion are preferred but once the objectives are set-either lead, follow or get out of the way !

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