Seizing Opportunities

A period of economic uncertainty. when travel budgets are under the knife, hardly seems the optimal time to invest in hotels. But Keith and Kelly Kite had a different perspective.

This uncle-nephew team of Indian River County developers saw decades-old motels struggling to serve business travelers across their region. Intuitively, they knew that executives calling on the revitalized Vero Beach-based Piper Aircraft Inc. would need lodging and meeting facilities. Not to mention that families of patients nearby hospitals like the Indian River Medical Center, which boasts a new affiliation with Duke University Medical Center for Heart Surgery,could use comfortable accommodations, too.

"Each heart surgery represents quite a few room nights," says Kelly Kite, managing member of Kite Properties in Vero Beach, developer of the new SpringHill Suites in unincorporated Indian River County. "The fact there wasn't a business-class property nearby to accommodate the aviation, medical and related industries drove our hotel decisions."

The Kites pooled $22 million investor capital and turned to Workforce Solutions and the St. Lucie County Career Center to help find some 50 employees and a dozen managers for their SpringHill property and a Hampton Inn they plan to open in 2010 in Okeechobee.

Fourth-generation Floridians who've lived along the "Treasure Coast" since the 1990s, the Kites are examples of home-grown entrepreneurs who saw--and seized upon--an opportunity. With business travel as a base, the Kites are certain tourism will thrive. Their SpringHill location is just three miles from the Atlantic. Two more hotels under development--including a 90-room Hampton Inn in Vero Beach. where Minor League Baseball has resurrected the old Dodgertown facility--will also benefit from area growth and help diversify the region's employment base. "There is a great deal of promise for the area," says Gwenda Thompson, CEO of Workforce Solutions.

Says Kelly Kite, "When we looked for a place with a steady supply of work and growth beyond tourism, we saw a lack of product in this particular market. We think our hotels will dominate the market for the foreseeable future."

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Building on a firm foundation: Tourism remains a strong element of Miami-Dade's economic plan. In fall 2008, economic development and tourism lead, ers began partnering with American Airlines on a $4.5-million marketing campaign aimed at aggressively promoting Miami-Dade as the ideal place to live, work and play. And in spring 2009, the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins broke ground on a $505-million, retractable-dome stadium slated to be ready for Opening Day, 2012

International banking center: Miami is home to 40-plus international banks, in large part because of its multilingual workforce, more than half of whom claim Spanish as their native tongue and the rest divided among English, Creole, Portuguese, French and other European languages. In summer 2009, Scotiabank's Private Client Group chose Miami as the site for its first U.S. branch, anew facility devoted to regional wealth management services for non-U.S. residents and citizens, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean. Dan Wright, senior vice president and head of international wealth management, anticipates an investment of $4.8 million and the creation of 10 new jobs over the next three years.

The natural choice: When California-based Molina Healthcare went looking for a headquarters for its Florida operations, Miami was the natural choice for the company that provides Medicare and Medicaid programs to seniors and low-income patients. Among the selling points: Miami's multiethnic base, the region's eligible beneficiaries and a general acceptance of managed care, which helped streamline the new employee training process, says David Pollack, CEO of Molina Healthcare of Florida. Molina will bring no new jobs to a 30,000-square-foot facility in the county's western Doral area. The firm today serves nearly 30,000 members, but hopes to top 45,000 by year-end. Says Pollack "To be a leader in the country, you need to be a leader in Florida."

Growing life sciences sector: Among the county's 1,700 life sciences businesses are Beckman Coulter, BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson's Cordis and Schering-Plough; soon, there will be more. The University of Miami--emboldened by President Donna Shalala's record $1.4-billion university campaign and the recruitment of leading clinical and genetics researchers who followed med school Dean Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt--in June announced the $80-million first phase of what will be a 1.4-million-square-foot Life Science Park near Jackson Memorial Hospital. Among the tenants: South Florida Proton Center, a $120-million cancer research and treatment facility slated to open in 2012. The park is expected to eventually employ 4,500 and generate $253 million in annual economic impact.

BROWARD COUNTY

Transformation breeds growth: Business in Broward continues to thrive under the mantra of "transformation." Building on the 2008 debut of its Excellerate Broward and CEO Council programs designed to lure corporate relocations, county leaders have seen growth in several sectors. W Hotels Worldwide opened its 23-floor, 517-room W Fort Lauderdale in 2009. And Nova Southeastern University has ramped up programs in nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant and occupational and physical therapy to meet local demand for skilled healthcare workers. The Fort Lauderdale-based university plans to open a branch in Palm Beach County near Scripps Florida and Max Planck Institute of Bio-Imaging.

Biofuels take off: When Craig Ash looks at the 10 idle molasses tanks at Port Everglades, he sees opportunity. As vice president of Brazil based Cepemar World Renewable Fuels, Ash is overseeing the company's $30-million bid to rehab the tanks and convert them into storage devices for its sugarcane-based ethanol, biodiesel and biofuel imports. His hope is for a future distribution hub to service the Southeast. "You can draw a direct line between the northern coast of Brazil and the Southeast U.S. he says. "It makes geographic sense for Cepemar to be here based on the location."

Communications cluster: Sarasota-based xG Technology Inc. is the latest company to find a home at the burgeoning wireless communications cluster in Sunrise. Canada's Research in Motion, Hong Kong computer and electronics manufacturer Foxconn International Holdings and General Dynamics Cq Systems alreadyhave facilities here.The appeal is a ready pool of workers with the ideal brain-power to create xG's low-cost mobile broadband networks, says Frank Peake, deputy COO. "We found Broward was the best pool of engineers without going to Silicon Valley." Another plus is the proximity of Florida Atlantic University; xG uses FAU interns and taps its courses for technical training.

PALM BEACH COUNTY

Thinking ahead: Palm Beach County's "Smart Start Palm Beach" campaign, launched in 2008, has four key elements: (1) expedited permitting in a cities, with specific emphasis on bringing key industry categories such as healthcare, energy/green companies and communications/information technology to the county's unincorporated areas; (2) a global headquarters initiative to catalog and showcase its available Class A space; (3) partnerships between business leaders, area chambers and mayors to create a business retention program; and (4) a "shovel ready" site program to analyze available properties throughout the county and match them with companies keen to move into and around the area within three to 36 months. One such success was Office Depot, the long-time county employer which just relocated to a new 635,000-square-foot facility in Boca Raton, retaining 1,700 jobs for the region.

Bio-business heats up: In spring 2009, Delray Beach-based biofuel startup Ag-Oil LLC planted 20 acres of jatropha; when the trees mature in 18 months, the seeds will be used to make biodiesel fuel. The company received a $2.5-million Florida renewable energy grant to build a $20-million biodiesel production facility that is expected to support more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, says Brian Weprin, Ag-Oil's project manager. Why Delray Beach? The location is seven miles from I-95 and a CSX rail line, and close to expansive agricultural property should the concept take hold. Says Weprin: "Our goal is to make sure we have the most efficient seeds and strains, and the room to grow them."

Signs of the times: Baron Sign Manufacturing in Riviera Beach has been making signs for 26 years and in 2008, topped $9.5 million in revenues. Ready to expand, founder Sandra Foland bought 4.5 acres in a county Enterprise Zone and built a 40,000-square-foot facility to house her 50 employees and growing operations. A half-dozen new businesses subsequently joined the sign manufacturer in the area, and Foland now has plans to add 15% more space to her existing building.

MARTIN COUNTY

Gaining recognition: Three Martin County employers won Governor's Business Diversification Awards in 2008: Sol Inc. for export excellence; Advanced Technologies Group Inc. for innovation; and Ecosphere Technologies Inc. for "green" leadership ("Green-to-Gold" category).

Expansion pending: In July 2009, Vaught Aircraft Industries Inc.--maker of various parts for commercial jet airliners--made tentative plans for a major expansion of its Stuart facility. If pending state incentives are approved, the $12.9-million expansion will create 100 direct jobs over three years.

Focusing on life science: The Business Development Board and the Economic Council have established the Martin County Consortium for Life Science Research Technology Advancement to capitalize on the county's proximity to world-renowned life science research institutes and to grow the life science sector.

Powering Up

>> Construction is under way at Florida Power & Light's new solar-thermal plant just outside Indiantown. One of three solar facilities FPL is building in Florida, the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center will be the second largest solar facility in the world and the first-ever hybrid facility connecting a solar facility to an existing fossil fuel plant. Slated for completion in 2010, the Martin Center is expected to power 11,000 homes with 75 megawatts of electricity.

>> The $480-million project is being built by Abilene, Tex: based Lauren Engineers & Constructors with plenty of local help. Job fairs hosted by Martin County Wodcforce Solutions in April 2009 drew more than enough applicants for some 1,000 available construction jobs.

ST. LUCIE COUNTY

Growing Tradition: The biotechnology research cluster in the town of Tradition continues to grow and prosper:

* In January 2009, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies moved into its brand new $40-million, 100,000-square-foot research center; employment is already running 50% over projections.

* The Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute division of Oregon Health & Science University has selected Whiting-Turner of Tampa to build its 105,000-square-foot facility on an eight-acre site next door to Torrey Pines. Some zoo scientists and support personnel will eventually work there. V&GTI and its scientific director Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, Ph.D. (who, in June, announced a major research breakthrough on a possible method for eradicating HIV infection in humans) are temporarily housed in some excess space at Torrey Pines until the new facility is up and running.

* The Alfred Mann Institute has acquired 22 acres for its planned 400,000-square-foot medical and life sciences research facility

* Martin Memorial Hospital--which does clinical trials for Tampa-based H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute--awaits Certificate of Need approval for a 300-bed hospital.

* Two I-95 interchanges provide easy access to the community of Tradition, where The Landing at Tradition, a 600,000-square-foot shopping center, now boasts 96% occupancy.

Extruding success: Todd Holloway was a wanted man in 2008. Florida, Georgia and his native Indiana were bidding to become the new home of East Coast Plastics, a Florida-based company Holloway had acquired and was looking to grow in a 50,000-square-foot space. Ultimately, Port St. Lucie won over Holloway thanks to its strong workforce and attractive financial incentives. The company began production in late 2008 and in June 2009 completed its new administrative offices. In all, the company brings 50 jobs--with hopes of growing to 70--and a client base spanning medical, military and commercial sectors. Though he commutes twice-monthly from Indiana, Holloway is pleased with the home he has found. "If it wasn't for Port St. Lucie, there's a chance we would have left Florida. They're very forward thinking here."

Collaborations drive underwater research: In May, Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute partnered with the University of North Carolina-Wilmington to spearhead NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology. With a $23-million grant, they will jointly pursue deep-water oceanographic research. Also under investigation: breast cancer research with deep-water sponges--in partnership with Burnham Institute for Medical Research; bluegreen algae biofuel work with the Smithsonian Institution; and additional research with submersible turbines for generating electricity.

Worker training: Accounts receivable firm Oxford Management Services received a $257,000 Workforce Florida Quick Response Training (QRT) grant commitment in October 2008 to hire and train 303 new employees at its new Fort Pierce location. Likewise, Port St. Lucie-based medical supplier Liberty Medical worked with the local economic development council, Enterprise Florida, Indian River State College and Workforce Solutions to secure its own QRT grant in January 2009 to train some 2,300 new and incumbent employees on new software.

Mas cerveza, por favor: Jupiter-based J.J. Taylor Companies has acquired from Thies Distributing the beer distribution rights to Martin, Okeechobee, Indian River and St. Lucie counties and is out to bid for a $5-million warehouse and distribution facility. The new 25,000-square-foot plant will be located in Crossroads Park on S.R. 70 between the Turnpike and I-95. "This area has great potential for growth," says Vice President of Operations Jose E. Rivera. "The highways make it easy for our employees."

Educational Opportunities

>>Indian River State College opened its new Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex in September 2009. The $40-million, 50-acre complex at Ft. Pierce houses trainees in counter-terrorism, homeland security, FEMA and emergency management in custom facilities that include a built-to-scale courtroom and an airplane once owned by boxing promoter Don King. Also opening this fall at IRSC: an $18.5 million Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) building. Elsewhere, Florida Atlantic University's Port St. Lucie campus has undergone a $12.2-million expansion.

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

Flying high: Vero Beach-based Piper Aircraft--fresh off its May acquisition by investment management company Imprimis--is slated to roll out its $2.19 million PiperJet "very light jet" by 2012.

Play ball: Dodgertown--the Vero Beach facility that was vacated in 2008 when the Los Angeles Dodgers moved their spring training to Arizona--undergoing rejuvenation. Minor League Baseball now holds three five-year leases on the four-diamond facility and is making big plans. With 89 rooms, tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool, conference center and up to 300 employees during peak events, this unique facility has undergone a $2-million facelift and will host college and high school tournaments, Major League umpire training and corporate team building, says Craig Callan, vice president of Minor League Baseball-Vero Beach. "Our target is 40 to 45 weeks of business a year."

KEY WEST/MONROE COUNTY

Cruisin' in: Cruises and the revenue they generate in disembarkation Fees and sales of merchandise, food and beverages remain vital to Key West's economy. At just over 80,000, arrivals in May 2009 were double the number for the previous May and contributed to giving Key West its best May ever for cruise traffic. Elsewhere in the Keys, tourism remained strong. Despite the high cost of gasoline, 79% of all Keys visitors continue to arrive by car, and more than half of those are Floridians coming from Tampa southward. "The greatest amenity we have is U.S. 1," says Kevin Speidel, Waldorf-Astoria area general manager and managing director. "That road leads to a Caribbean vacation destination."

Putting heads in beds: The Southern-most Hotel Collection is adding to its portfolio of Key West accommodations to meet increased demand, says Matt Babich, general manager and minority partner. The company bought and subsequently razed Atlantic Shores Hotel and the Sands Beach Club, then opened 80 oceanfront rooms at its newest property, Southernmost on the Beach. When Babich arrived in the Keys in 1988, occupancies were 30% in "shoulder" seasons. Now, he's seeing strong guest figures year-round.

Regional Assets

Universities/Colleges

* Barry University

* Broward College

* Florida Atlantic University

* Florida International University

* Florida Keys Community College

* Florida Memorial University

* Indian River State College

* Lynn University

* Miami Dade College

* Nova Southeastern University

* Palm Beach Atlantic University

* Palm Beach Community College

* St. Thomas University

* University of Miami

Airports

* Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

* Key West International Airport

* Marathon (Florida Keys) Airport

* Miami International Airport

* Palm Beach International Airport

Seaports

* Port Everglades

* Port of Fort Pierce

* Port of Key West

* Port of Miami-Dade

* Port of Palm Beach

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