JAXUSA Partnership: Talent, skill level the new currency for Clay County

By Nick Blank Staff Writer
Posted 6/12/19

ORANGE PARK – Acquiring talent is a matter of improving quality of life and targeting specific industries. As Clay County grows at a fast pace, the public and private sectors need to be …

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JAXUSA Partnership: Talent, skill level the new currency for Clay County

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Acquiring talent is a matter of improving quality of life and targeting specific industries. As Clay County grows at a fast pace, the public and private sectors need to be ready.

That was the message from JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace as he highlighted ways to attract talent amidst the county’s burgeoning growth at Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation’s second quarter luncheon.

The JAXUSA Partnership is the economic development arm of the JAX Chamber of Commerce. Wallace is the former head of Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority.

Wallace said the partnership, with only a $3.3 million budget, was involved in landing 100,000 jobs and adding about $6 billion in capital investment in the area.

Clay wanted to attract medical, advanced manufacturing, advanced transportation and logistics and financial services jobs.

“It’s important to keep up the momentum,” Wallace said. “We have to target those industries.”

Clay County and Northeast Florida compete with Tampa and Orlando, and on a national level with Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.

Wallace cited his experience at a similar position in Miami, where surrounding cities like Hialeah or Doral competed against each other for investment opportunities. Wallace said the seven counties of the JAXUSA Partnership serves must be united.

“We need to showcase all seven counties,” Wallace said.

Clay County’s population grows by 2% a year. Among the county’s newer residents, 24% are between 1-19 years old, 28.3% are between 20-29 and 18.4% are between 30-39.

Clay EDC Chairman George Egan said the county’s unemployment rate stood at 3.1%. There were about 52,768 private sector jobs in the county.

“There’s a lot going on, on a macro basis,” Egan said.

Talent and skill level are the new currency, Wallace added.

“These newer residents are the key to driving more business, thus more jobs, as well as quality of life professionals demand,” Wallace said.

Newer residents benefit the community by putting down roots. Wallace said local leaders and families must pay attention to the younger demographics and encourage them to stay when they complete college.

With Clay’s high-ranking school district, the county ran the risk of giving students an excellent education only to send them elsewhere.

“I’m a very competitive person,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to see our talent end up in Orlando, Tampa, Raleigh [N.C.] or Nashville, when we could be using our talent here.”

Wallace is not the first official to emphasize change is coming to Clay County, like it or not. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but officials must be prepared, growth must be focused, he added.

He spoke to Clay’s assets: it boasts a large medical and military community and with the First Coast Expressway, there’s room for commercial and residential growth. Changes are certain, along with the growing pains associated.

“I have one question: Are you ready for change?” he asked. “Because your politics, your demographics and your economics will change within your county.”

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