Gadsden Is Setting Its ‘Sites’

Identifying and promoting locations for future economic development is a priority



As the saying goes, it’s all about location.

And as Gadsden County enters the economic development arena with a new energy, the idea is to let the world know there are plenty of locations available for new and expanding companies that want to do business here.

“Selling a county is just like selling a product in a store,” says Beth Kirkland, executive director of the Gadsden County Development Council, which was established by the county in 2013. “You need to have choices. And the more product you have on the shelf, the better off you are.”

Toward that end, the county has been working to identify sites ready for commercial development and wants to begin engaging landowners to let the county market those properties to prospective buyers. The goal is to attract companies that will help grow the economy of the area, bringing better and higher-paying jobs to local residents.

“Our focus has to be on land (for future economic development),” Kirkland explains, adding that what buildings are currently available might be too old or have height limitations that could restrict a major manufacturing prospect.

A neighboring county to Leon — the more urbanized home of state government, two major universities and one of the largest community colleges in the state — Gadsden retains its mostly rural nature. Farms and other available (and affordable) vacant land cover much of the countryside between the county’s small towns.

In 2014, the county was invited to be a part of Enterprise Florida’s Strategic Site Inventory program funded by Duke Energy Foundation. Duke provided $120,000 for a study that included 23 North Florida counties — all with access to a major interstate and railroad lines. Gadsden was the westernmost county in the region to be reviewed. The purpose of the grant was to identify 100 sites within the utility company’s service area best suited for prospective businesses ready to embark on large industrial and commercial projects.

“When Florida competes to win business location projects, particularly for large global companies, we are competing not only with sites in other Southeastern states but also with sites in other countries,” said Gray Swoope, former Florida Secretary of Commerce and CEO of Enterprise Florida, when the grant was awarded. “It is important to our objective of bringing new businesses and jobs to the state to be able to demonstrate that we have a broad inventory of suitable sites that meet their criteria.”

Land in prime locations for strategic development of industrial and manufacturing projects is considered to be at an all-time premium. Duke Energy’s investment in the Strategic Sites Inventory program provides communities in the initial program area — all of them located along logistically optimal routes for manufacturing — with key information about best possible sites for development and gives those communities a distinct competitive advantage in winning new projects.

“Our partnership with Enterprise Florida on this important initiative underscores our shared focus and commitment to economic development and job creation in Florida,” says Alex Glenn, Duke Energy state president for Florida. “The Strategic Sites Inventory program will enable the state of Florida to proactively market premium site locations and more effectively compete for projects through advanced site selection.”

The study inventory identified 119 sites within the 23 counties.

In Gadsden, it found 20 sites ranging in size from 200 to 1,200 acres — the most in any of the counties surveyed. The next largest inventory of available sites was in Sumter, which has 12.

Beth Kirkland, Executive Director of the Gadsden County Development Council

Photo courtesy of Gadsden County Tourist Development Council

“These are sites that exhibit strong potential for projects,” explains Kirkland. “That means there is low impact from undesirable features. There are no wetlands, no endangered species, no important archaeological sites. They were mainly looking for high and dry parcels of land close to transportation assets.”

She says it is now up to the county to look at prioritizing those sites that have been identified for further research.

“We now need to start the due diligence stage,” she says. “It’s important to reflect that we have robust utility infrastructure and a number of providers. Enhanced water, sewer, electric and natural gas exist in some places. That’s what businesses want. They want to see a site that is ready to go. In the sites we’ve identified so far, we have work to do.”

The end result of the program is to feed a pipeline that allows communities to take sites through an evaluation or site certification program, leading to additional qualified options for companies that want to grow in Florida by investing capital and adding jobs.

In 2013, Gulf Power launched a similar site certification program for Northwest Florida counties in its service area. Nine sites are currently pending certification.