Santa Rosa County is offering more than $5 million in incentives, in hopes of luring a wholesale food distributor.
The blueprint for “Project Runner” would allow the firm to build on about 50 acres at Northwest Florida Industrial Park. The land is worth two and a half million dollars, with a ten-year property tax exemption totaling about the same. The county would also match $240,000 in state funds.
“They’re looking for a center that would service within a couple of hours within a site on I-10,” said Shannon Ogletree, Director of Santa Rosa County Economic Development. “They would employ in the neighborhood of 400 people; average wage in the neighborhood of $46,000 [per year], building over a 300,000 square-foot facility.”
This is not some “Johnny Come Lately” effort. Ogletree and his team have been working on “Project Runner” for roughly two years.
“The sell-cycle for economic development projects takes many, many years,” Ogletree said. “It’s been 24-30 months that we’ve been working this project. Anytime you ask a company to invest in to your community, they want to make sure that they have the right spot.
“This could sometimes make or break a company.”
The value of the company’s investment is placed by Ogletree at around $40 million. That includes equipment, renovating the inside of the building and work on the exterior.
“This is just the first step; there are still things that we have to work out and apply for,” Ogletree said. “Going after [Triumph Gulf Coast] dollars to help incentivize this package. We’re also applying for journalists through the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund.”
The next step in the process was taken on Thursday when the Santa Rosa County Commission gave unanimous approval to some incentive packages. Commissioner Don Salter says they’re dependent on receiving five million dollars in BP settlement money from Triumph Gulf Coast.
“The five million would be for offsetting school taxes that the project would have to pay over a ten-year period,” Salter said. “The school board, by legislation, cannot give [a] company credit for not paying school taxes.”
If the pre-application is approved by the Triumph board, Santa Rosa would then get the green light to put in a formal application.
The Commission also plans to ask the Legislature next year for additional funding to upgrade infrastructure at the Interstate-10 Industrial Park – and kick in some money for future projects.
“If you don’t have the inventory – the inventory being land – you’re not in the game,” said Salter. “Any decisions that any governmental body makes about economic development, [and] industrial parks is an investment in the future.”
The park – on 90 acres close to State Highway 97 – is also seen as a key to curbing encroachment on NAS Whiting Field in case of another round of BRAC – base realignment and closure.
“We did that so we would have industrial land available for the development, but we also didn’t want residential development to be built on that fence line to that outlying field,” said Salter. Industrial development around a military base or outlying field is a lot more compatible than residential development.”
If all goes as scheduled, the company could start moving into the industrial park in 18-24 months. But there’s no timetable for when the firm would actually begin operations. Too early in the process, says Economic Development Director Shannon Ogletree.
“We need to secure the incentives; secure the dollars to infrastructure at the site, and then further entice the company to come,” said Ogletree. “While this has taken 24-30 months, it still could take a number of months to get everything lined up.”
There’s also no word on when Santa Rosa Economic Development will identify the firm, with other sites also under consideration at this time.