Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
The city’s Economic Element Task Force convened in Fernandina Beach City Commission Chambers at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, to discuss and finalize the draft of a proposed Economic Development Element for the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Steve Rieck, Executive Director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board, led the 90-minute meeting, assisted by Fernandina Beach Senior Planners Adrienne Burke and Kelly Gibson. Three city commissioners—Ed Boner, Arlene Filkoff and Mayor Sarah Pelican—also participated along with other Task Force members. While the state does not require such an element in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Nassau County recently added such an element to the county plan. The cities in the county are now, with the approval of their governing bodies, following suit. Rieck explained that city plans should complement the county plan. The Task Force’s goal is to have this item on the city’s Planning Advisory Board agenda for consideration in May. From there, it will move to the Fernandina Beach City Commission for approval and adoption.
The purpose of an economic development element is to lay out a goal and objectives to retain and attract the types of economic development that the city wants to encourage, along with various implementing policies. Rieck said, “The economic development element is a blue print to make things happen. It identifies the best areas for economic development.” The draft goal currently reads:
The City will create and implement an economic development strategy focused on the retention, expansion, and relocation of high wage jobs and targeted businesses, while seeking to diversify the City’s tax and employment base to lessen the tax burden for existing residents and businesses. This will be accomplished through the preservation of the City’s unique character, historical, cultural and environmental assets and through promotion of redevelopment and rehabilitation of properties with existing infrastructure and public services.
Seven objectives, along with a total of 20 implementing policies have also been identified. These objectives cover leadership and intergovernmental coordination; attraction, retention and expansion of targeted businesses; support of existing businesses; promoting tourism; land use and infrastructure expansion; global logistics and related infrastructure; and workforce development and retention.
In drafting this economic development element city staff and task force members weighed significant statistical data providing demographic and economic snapshots of the region and the city. Some of the points made by City Senior Planner Adrienne Burke include:
- While the city’s population will continue to grow, the rate will be somewhat slower than that of the last few decades. With the growth of county population on the mainland, Fernandina’s share of the population will decline from 17% in 2009 to 14% in 2030. This share will probably drop even more when the Terra Pointe development is factored in.
- Fernandina Beach tends to have an older population with approximately 7.5% more people aged 65 and over compared to the national average of 12.6%.
- 89.8% of the city’s adults hold high school degrees, nearly 5% higher than the national average.
- While the city generally has sufficient housing, there is a shortage of workforce housing, meaning that many people who work in the city commute from other parts of the county and region. Approximately 46% of Nassau County’s employed workforce commutes outside the county to work.
- With less than 6% vacant land available the City is nearing build-out within its existing municipal limits. This figure supports the City’s intent to provide for infill and redevelopment opportunities that incentivize low impact development strategies and green building techniques.
- Amelia Island is critical to the economy of Nassau County and its natural resources have undoubtedly contributed enormously to the success of tourism and its desirability as a place to live.
Burke indicated that mention of the need for an economic development element dated back at least as far as the community visioning plan, Vision 2000, which was put together from 1998-2000. That plan identified 6 objectives and 28 strategies.
Business sector and employment data
Rieck analyzed Nassau County employment trends from 2002-2011. The sectors experiencing significant growth included education and health services, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business activities. The areas experiencing decline are public administration (government) and forestry. Numbers of people employed increased significantly in professional and business services (72%), information (50%), education and health services (39%), and trade, transportation and utilities (19%). The biggest losses are recorded in forestry, manufacturing and construction.
For the city of Fernandina Beach, city Senior Planner Kelly Gibson reported that based upon active business licenses, the biggest business sectors for the city include professional, business and financial services (34%), personal services (16%), and trade, transportation and utilities (12%).
Economic development incentives
Steve Rieck explained the Economic Development Grant (EDG) Incentive Program employed by Nassau County. He gave examples of how over a period of time, a new business could be incentivized with tax breaks over a 15-year period and an existing business could also receive tax relief for adding significant capital improvement and/or employees. In either case, the county will still receive ad valorem taxes from the business, but the business can receive a partial rebate for meeting conditions set by the county. Such a plan, Reich said, can be structured to attract the kind of development the city is seeking to the areas it identifies in its own plan. Such incentives can make the difference between a business locating in Fernandina Beach or somewhere else.
Task Force members expressed general satisfaction with the draft to date. Some members expressed interest in locating small pockets of developed retail in areas other than the Centre Street corridor such as Old Town. Others discussed the possibility of reinvigorating the shrimping industry with related industrial development and investigating opening the waterways to oyster harvesting. Task Force member John Cotner stressed the importance of having an educated pool of working age people for potential employers to tap into, should they choose to open a business in Fernandina Beach. Members reaffirmed that efforts must be made to keep younger people on the island to meet such needs. Those efforts must include increasing affordable housing.
For more detail on the information presented at this meeting, contact the Community Development Department in the city of Fernandina Beach (904) 277-7325. A wealth of information is also available on the Nassau County Economic Development Board’s website http://expandinnassau.com/, or you may contact Steve Rieck at (904) 225-8878.
March 28, 2013 2:08 p.m.