Making Innovation Affordable
by George White
Palm Bay is Brevard County’s largest city, not only in population with approximately 101,000 residents, but with an area of over 100 square miles. But there is more to Palm Bay – and its future – than just being a large bedroom community for jobs elsewhere. Forbes.com in 2010 ranked Palm Bay as the 11th “Most Innovative City in America” and 18th “Best Bang for the Buck” city in the nation.
“Palm Bay’s business-friendly environment and outstanding quality of life complement a reasonable cost of living and employment opportunities from entrepreneurial enterprises through a growing base of mid- and large-size companies,” according to the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.
Keeping that industrial and employment base growing is part of the responsibilities of City Manager Sue Hann. “We have a wide variety of opportunities in Palm Bay. Because we already have a very strong high-tech presence with Harris, Intersil, Globe Wireless, Syncron EMS and DRS, Palm Bay is well-positioned to recruit and grow businesses that support high-tech industries,” she said. As for recruiting new industries, Hann said that the city “has a unique set of assets, including affordable land values, a highly responsive and facilitative development review process, a top quality and highly regarded educational system, a highly skilled workforce and a strong track record of working with our existing businesses.”
Edyie McCall serves as Business Development Administrator for the City of Palm Bay. McCall is pleased with the progress the City has made, including an additional 200 employees added at MC Assembly and Harris’ $100 million expansion highlighted by a new 450,000 sq. ft. R & D facility on Palm Bay Road. “That is a huge deal. I think we’ve gained employees and we gained high wages that will support a family. We’re not doing retail wages,” McCall said.
Winning in a Competitive Market
But even with the success, most agree there is a continuing challenge to recruiting new jobs to Palm Bay – the lack of incentive money to give to prospective industries. “Although potential businesses and developers have been considering Palm Bay, one of the most common challenges we hear is lack of access to capital,” Hann said.
“Most of the state incentives have a 20 percent match,” added McCall. “The way we get around that is we use the ad valorum tax. I’m talking about the real projects with 100 to 300 jobs. To pull something like that into our community will take an incentive arsenal. That’s what it takes in today’s economic world – you’d better have your incentives lined up, because every community has quality of life now. You’re going to have workforce and affordable housing, so what does it come down to? It’s where they are going to make the most profit and what that manager can share with his shareholders,” she said.
Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Vicki Northrup agrees, but is always ready to mention other factors with which to pitch Palm Bay. “While we may not be able to offer small- or mid-sized companies the same financial incentives as other cities and states, what we do offer in the way of affordable living, great climate, no state income tax and a host of other attributes can sway a decision,” she said.
Other Cards in their Hand
Looking forward, transportation improvements keyed on a new parkway may become the wildcard for industrial recruiting, Hann said. “The Parkway in the northwest area of Palm Bay between Malabar Road and Emerson Drive will be under construction later this year. This roadway, with connections to Emerson and Pace, will provide opportunities for commercial and some residential growth in this area of the City. When Brevard County’s segment to 192 and connecting to Ellis Road is built, this will further connect Palm Bay’s residents with some of the employment opportunities in the vicinity of Melbourne International Airport.”
“In addition, the South Parkway Interchange (approximately between Grant Road and Micco Road) will facilitate a number of employment and development opportunities in the near future as well. A new interchange in an undeveloped area is a rare opportunity to customize the land uses to bring in industries that create jobs,” explained Hann.
There is no magic single answer to industrial recruiting in today’s economy, but Palm Bay officials nonetheless remain hopeful. “I’m encouraged by the potential, the land, the community, and the fact that we have diehard believers in Palm Bay and businesses that believe in this community,” McCall said.
Northrup has seen many cities and is excited about Palm Bay’s chances. “One common thread here has always been the sense of community spirit, and having lived and worked in 16 states in the past decade I can say with no hesitation, Palm Bay’s spirit is unique and has been and always will be what propels the City forward,” she said. Hann credits her optimism on increasing cooperation throughout the county for economic development and qualities that make Palm Bay “a great place to live and an affordable place to build or buy a home.”
“Our staff embraces their role as facilitators of business and we have tremendous quality of life assets. I am confident that Palm Bay has exactly the foundation we need to attract and retain business in our community,” she concluded confidently.
Snapshot: Palm Bay, FL
A few early homesteaders selected a town called Tillman, located at the mouth of Turkey Creek, and they established the Tillman’s Post Office in 1887. Around 1925, the 200 residents of Tillman petitioned the Postal Department in Washington, DC to change the town name to Palm Bay. It was incorporated as a city on January 16, 1960.
Palm Bay is the 19th largest city in Florida by population with more than 100,000 residents and is the ninth largest city by size, covering 97 square miles. It encompasses 900 miles of paved roads.
There are 24 public and private K-12 schools in Palm Bay. Brevard Community College Palm Bay Campus also offers baccalaureate and graduate education through the offerings of the University of Central Florida, Webster University and Barry University.
The most common occupations in Palm Bay are: management, professional and related occupations, 31 percent; sales and office occupations, 31 percent; and service occupations, 23 percent. Approximately 78 percent of workers in Palm Bay work for companies, 11 percent work for the government and 5 percent are self-employed.
For more facts and figures visit PalmBayFlorida.org
Palm Bay’s Growing Manufacturing Giant
If a primary goal of Brevard’s business sector is to grow manufacturing jobs, then perhaps one of the area’s greatest success stories is Palm Bay’s MC Assembly. Though often overshadowed by multinationals like DRS and Harris Corporation, employment at their 230,000 sq. ft. facility on Kirby Circle grew more than 28 percent in 2011, to exceed 900 employees. Today, it is well over 1,000. Their attractive campus in South Brevard serves as the company’s headquarters, with additional plants in Boston and Mexico.
“There’s a ripple effect,” CEO and President George Moore was quoted as saying, in regard to creating jobs for hundreds of other workers in the region as a result of MC Assembly purchasing many of their components from other Central Florida companies.
State of the Art
Founded in 1984 as a printed circuit board test facility, MC Assembly became a provider of full manufacturing services in 1989. Jake Kulp, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing described the privately held company as, “a leading mid tier electronics manufacturing service provider, with state of the art production facilities. We offer a wide range of manufacturing, test and engineering support services across a broad market spectrum. Our market focus is centered on the industrial, medical, aerospace/defense, and networking/telecom industries.”
“State of the art” seems like a fitting description of the plant. Their highly skilled technicians operate robotic assembly machines around the clock, pulling from an inventory of some 20,000 different electronic components to manufacture hundreds of electronic circuit boards, components and devices.
Manufacturing: The Comeback Kid?
Many market analysts anticipate American and European manufacturing to grow in the near term, while predicting a decline in Asia. MC Assembly executives say the tide has turned for its electronic contract manufacturing in a range of fields from aerospace to medicine.
“In the next five years we see the company growing,” Moore, who seems to prefer khakis to pin stripes, said recently. He then added, “We’re focusing on significant growth in 2012.” And with $212 million in revenue, that is a prediction no one in the county can ignore.
For Palm Bay, where Radiation Inc. was birthed – which in 1956 had revenue of just $2.2 million before being acquired in 1967 by Harris Corporation, which moved its headquarters here in 1974 and grew into a $6 billion global company – expectations are high. Where successful and growing companies like MC Assembly flourish, jobs and other manufacturing companies often follow.