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Reflections on a year in economic development
October 01, 2015
development, Economic
Karen Schexnayder
By Laura DiBella

I get asked often what exactly it is that I do as an economic developer, and after a year, my answer has evolved to something rather simple — I compete.

Of the many facets of economic development all involve one key element and that is competition.  The NCEDB competes for industry, we compete for quality workforce, we compete for better education, we compete for investment dollars and we compete for the attention and support of the elected officials, as well as, our community at large.  The sheer thought of being tested to this degree day in and day out is pretty daunting when explained to some but not to me – I love it and I welcome it.  Competition makes you better, it makes you rise above to levels you never thought possible, and every day I wake up supercharged, ready for action and excited for the day’s challenges.

Admittedly, it is a lot more fun to compete when you know that the product you’re marketing is truly special and offers tremendous benefits. Nassau County is both. It also has some amazing assets that I am certain will take years for me to fully realize and uncover.

For starters, we have the rich history of Amelia Island and the City of Fernandina Beach and the stories of the industrial legends that walked the streets and shaped their dreams at the Florida House Inn and the Palace Saloon.  We have an authentic Main Street America alongside a historic Victorian seaport village – our true working waterfront, involving a natural deep water port and two pulp mills that rescued the community from the Great Depression and now, over 75 years later, remain among our largest and strongest employers in the county.  So much so that in June, Rayonier Advanced Materials announced that it entered into a non-binding letter of intent with Borregaard, a Norwegian company, to form a joint venture for the manufacturing, marketing and sale of natural lignin-based products.  This is an internationally competitive deal with 30-70 jobs and an estimated capital investment of $110 million at stake.

In what is now Yulee, we have the “ghost” town of Crandall which was once a thriving mid-1700s community. Where the town once stood overlooking the St. Mary’s River are the most breathtaking bluffs that soar to almost 80 feet above sea level.  Surrounding Crandall are the 24,000 acres that make up the East Nassau Community Planning Area, our new soon to be named city, and quite possibly the most outstanding acreage this region could ever ask for from a residential, commercial and industrial standpoint, boasting over six miles of Interstate 95 frontage and six miles of both rail and riverfront frontage – where else in Florida can you find such a mix of developable property?  We have many irons in the fire at this development and with every passing day the inquiries get that much more exciting.  Expect an announcement or two in the coming year as we transform the landscape of the I-95 and A1A corridor.

Remarkable countryside is the hallmark of the Westside, its history rooted in the rail industry and what will no doubt be the path to its future.  Our true diamond in the rough, we have such a valuable resource in the Crawford Diamond dual rail industrial site, a property that is so rare, only a handful of states in the entire country can boast about having such an asset.  Once fully developed, the Crawford Diamond industrial site will transform the economic landscape of the entire county and region and make Nassau County a very serious contender as the Southeast competes for industry.  It is here that our largest deal in the county resides, a nationally competitive manufacturing opportunity that stands to bring over 200 jobs and an estimated $270 million in capital investment – and that is just for the first phase.

One would think that I was talking about several different counties when you take the above in full context, and the opportunities detailed inspire me each and every day.  I feel fortunate to not only sell this county, but also to call it my home.  I thank you for your support as it has made this past year more than I could have ever imagined, and for embracing and welcoming me to what is, in my mind, the greatest and most competitive county in Florida.

Game on.

The NCEDB exists because of the generous support of the Nassau County Board of Commissioners, our local municipalities and economic development partners.
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