Local Manufacturing In St. Lucie Brings New Job Opportunities To The Community
Business is booming in St. Lucie County. The past year has brought a variety of projects in the area, including the expansion of current businesses, relocation of headquarters, repurposing of existing facilities, and the setting up of new operations in the area. “Across the board, we’re seeing a lot of manufacturing activity,” says Jill Marasa, vice president of business retention and expansion with the county’s Economic Development Council.
While Miami and Silicon Valley have garnered reputations as start-up hubs, St. Lucie County is appealing more to businesses that are already established. The resources here are more suited for companies that have been in operation for 20 or 30 years, or are in the second stage of their growth cycle. “The cost of doing business in St. Lucie County is much more attractive than in the south,” Marasa explains, noting the higher taxes in the southern counties versus St. Lucie, as well as the availability of a labor pool that lives locally, at a lower cost of living.
“Time (and money) is of the essence for these companies, and so when we’re able to do that it helps them along so that they’re making good choices.” - Jill Marasa
The EDC plays a key role in supporting these companies. For those considering a move to St. Lucie County, they offer insight into the labor force and local business community. Assistance with site selection provides businesses with a location best suited for their project. “We work very closely with both the municipalities and the county and the growth management departments, and working with land development codes, and understanding where projects belong,” Marasa says. “Time (and money) is of the essence for these companies, and so when we’re able to do that it helps them along so that they’re making good choices.”
Radical Cosmetics is a family-owned company providing private label color cosmetics and skin care contract manufacturing, development and packaging solutions. CEO Fenton Baijnath moved operations from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Lake Worth approximately six years ago. In April 2017, he purchased an additional facility in Fort Pierce with the intention of relocating the New Jersey headquarters to Florida.
Baijnath hopes to access a good labor pool from residents, helping to alleviate unemployment issues in the area. Within the first year, he plans to make as many as 60 jobs available for the day shift. “Ultimately, for me to maximize the use of the place, I would think along the lines of a second shift, maybe toward the end of next year, with another 30 or 40 jobs,” he explains.
The Treasure Coast International Airport and Business Park (TCIA) is also working to attract new opportunities, specifically to the Airport West Commerce Park. “We’re in the process of having designed a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot hangar, which we’re going to have help us with the maintenance, rehab and overhaul (MRO) business at the airport,” explains Mark Satterlee, AICP, deputy county administrator with the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners.
A hangar of that size would be able to fit two Boeing 737 aircrafts simultaneously, making it an ideal location for a current MRO provider wanting a larger space, or one that is looking to expand into the Florida market. Much of the airport’s 4,000 acres are undeveloped, leaving plenty of space for further growth in the future.
TCIA already has more than a dozen MRO companies, with a large portion of the 1,300 airport employees working in that sector. “There’s a lot that goes into maintaining aircraft, it’s a good business,” Satterlee says. “The jobs that people can get in that industry are good for our demographic. They pay well, there’s training involved and it turns out a lot of it’s very highly skilled.” The new hangar, which is expected to be completed near the end of 2018, fits into a larger plan to further increase MRO operations for the county, which in turn makes more skilled positions available to residents in the area.
One sector that is seeing notable expansion within existing companies is the marine industry. With favorable conditions year-round, proximity to the coast and lower costs, St. Lucie County has long attracted well-known boat manufacturers to the area.
Pursuit Boats specializes in recreational offshore outboard products. Company founder Leon Slikkers first built the Fort Pierce facility in 1983 to complement operations in Michigan. “Leon had the foresight to locate here,” President Bruce Thompson says. “He recognized that we needed a saltwater address, and that’s worked out really well for us.”
Thompson has been with the company for 13 years. He credits its success not only to St. Lucie County’s reputation for saltwater but also the local labor pool. “We have 370 people right now,” Thompson explains, “and we benefit from being able to attract probably what I call third-generation folks [who] came to this area to support the citrus industry.” With the changes in citrus and the jobs made available by the marine industry, those families have been able to stay in the area and find employment. “We’ve got a very willing workforce, and we’re just so proud of what those folks have been able to do,” he adds.
Pursuit has most recently added another 14,000 square feet to its facility and 40 jobs dedicated to a production system designed to build small boats in half the time as their current system.
“I don’t think people in general are aware of how much manufacturing is done in the state of Florida and specifically in the Treasure Coast. " - Scott Deal
Maverick Boat Group has also enjoyed success in St. Lucie County. The company manufactures Cobia, Pathfinder and Hewes boats in addition to the Maverick line, each catering to the different spaces of inshore, near-shore and offshore fishing. Maverick has been at its current location since 1986, operating under Founder and President Scott Deal, and is in the process now of building an additional factory.
“I don’t think people in general are aware of how much manufacturing is done in the state of Florida and specifically in the Treasure Coast,” Deal says. “Manufacturing jobs are part of a healthy infrastructure and economy.” The new facility will have under roof more than 130,000 square feet, and Maverick has committed to hiring 100 new people in addition to the 300 workers already employed at the current location. That number is expected to increase as it reaches full operating capacity.
The EDC has played a vital role in ensuring each project moves forward smoothly. Along with EDC President Pete Tesch, Marasa and the team have created an environment in which companies can thrive, no matter the industry or stage of growth. “The logistics of our area seem to work well for the new economic upturn, if you will,” Marasa says. “The market here, and the labor force, and the cost of doing business and the pro-business community seem to be very attractive.”
Bringing new businesses in and assisting current business expansions directly support the health of the local economy. “The EDC has helped me bridge a gap and put me in touch with the right people to move things along smoothly,” Baijnath says, excited by the prospects of Radical Cosmetic’s move to the area. With more industry and the new jobs that come with, St. Lucie County is poised for an even brighter economic future.