New County Commissioners have a chance to right the errors of our past

Citizens for a Better Nassau County
By Bill Gingrich
January 20 2021


In November, Nassau County swore in three new commissioners to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). These individuals will, among other things, be responsible for appointing citizens to critical committees. Now that the new year is here, we are hopeful that our new commissioners will attend to the county’s serious problems and make a concerted effort to be more fiscally savvy and business friendly. Nassau County has not had a successful time working with businesses, to say the least. Whether it’s bringing new companies to the area or helping businesses that are already in the area expand, the county has been disinterested. Unfortunately, our county has established itself as “closed for business,” and recently chased away the highly competent lead of our economic development effort. Ask any site selector or business that has tried to locate here over the last several years.

This is unfortunate because being open for smart economic development is something our county so desperately needs in order to improve the resiliency of our economy, provide high-wage jobs, and strengthen our tax base. The economic development world is fiercely competitive. Our county has failed to recognize that two pulp and paper mills built in the 1930s, residential development and tourism alone cannot carry the county as its growth rate accelerates. Among the direct results we see of this head-in-the-sand approach is an over-reliance on residential property taxes to pay for all public infrastructure and services. It’s one reason why our taxes have gone up so dramatically, and it is why our county suffers disproportionately during every economic downturn. And remember, like it or not, Nassau County is expected to be one of the five fastest growing counties in Florida. So, we have a choice – smart growth or past practices.

Nassau County has A-rated public schools, a high quality of life, a prime location as the eastern gateway to Florida, and unique infrastructure advantages. We can compete for the highly coveted private capital investments and high-wage jobs that virtually every other county and state want to grow smarter and create a more prosperous future for our citizens. And we must, if we wish Nassau County to be financially sustainable for years to come.

Many will recall our county commissioners turned down the largest state infrastructure grant offered during former Florida Governor Rick Scott’s tenure – $17.4 million. This grant would have brought water, wastewater, natural gas, and rail extensions to the site – much-needed infrastructure to the Crawford Diamond in Western Nassau County. This opportunity would have secured 350 high-wage jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital investment from a manufacturer that, once turned down by Nassau County, located to Tennessee. While commissioners claimed to have supported economic development and for years implored the Nassau County Economic Development Board to promote the unique logistical advantages of the Crawford Diamond, the BOCC rejected the grant that would have brought the Economic Development Board’s work to fruition and missed an incredible opportunity to bring high-wage jobs to the part of the county that needs them most.

We must attract capital investment and high-wage jobs to our county if we’re ever to rise above the current hand-to-mouth approach to governing. Investment capital will move to where it is welcome. Rather than welcoming and cultivating private capital investment, Nassau County has historically slammed the door time and time again. High-wage jobs for our citizens, for decades, have moved elsewhere and will continue to do so if we continue to project hostility to business investment. We have an opportunity with our new commission to change our unfriendly business approach in the county and turn things around for the betterment of our citizens and for a brighter future.

Citizens will be watching what they do, and we are hopeful that they have learned from the errors of our past and current leadership will use their tenure to right them.

Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.

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Jay Kayne
Jay Kayne(@jay-kayne)
3 years ago

If the vaccine inoculation process is an example of “a better Nassau County” we are in for along couple of years.

Jon B
Jon B (@guest_60161)
3 years ago

Well considered development may be a good thing, but having lived in a Georgia county that would sell its soul for any development I can assure you not all “development” is good. The continuing story of the Wildlight development here demonstrates how difficult the struggle to assure responsible development can be. Or, contrast driving A1A to reach Amelia Island today with 20 years ago. Perhaps there should have been more limits on that development? Remember that long time Corporate executives such as the author of this article are accustomed to considering next quarter’s profits first. They have a fiduciary duty to do so, but what is good for the corporation is not necessarily the way a community should operate.