From Florida Real Estate Journal (, 02/16/07

Industrial sector leads push toward Baker County

By Susanna Barton

Florida Real Estate Journal

Baker County has been a hot topic of conversation in recent months with the

openings of several high-profile businesses, including a Walt-Mart

Supercenter and a manufacturing facility. Northeast Florida real estate

experts expect the buzz to continue, labeling Baker County as Jacksonvilleıs

next bedroom community and industrial hotspot due to the increasing cost of

land in Duval County.

³I donıt think there is any doubt that Baker County is in the beginning

phases of developers looking for square footage to build in that area,² said

Jeff Evans, a broker with Colliers Dickinson in Jacksonville.

Evans is marketing property in the area and, like other brokers in his

office, has heard of many developers seeking property in Baker County.

³Our office is working for a number of groups looking for residential and

commercial land. Baker County is definitely on the radar screen for national

and local developers,² he said.

Many have already found it, with Wal-Mart leading the charge. In late

January, Wal-Mart staged a grand opening of its first Wal-Mart Supercenter

in Macclenny at 9218 S. SR 228. The 161,755sf store brought 240 new jobs to

Baker County and augments a strong distribution and retail presence it has

already maintained in the area.

Meanwhile, Hanson Roof Tile of South Florida opened a 120,000sf

manufacturing facility in nearby Sanderson and expected to begin full

production at the plant by January, according to a third-quarter report from

the company.

Online reports in the Baker County Standard indicate additional retail will

be coming online, including a new hotel, outlet stores, restaurants and

retail centers. A release from Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. indicated it had

partnered with Birmingham-based Wellspot Medical Clinics Inc. to open a

freestanding walk-in medical clinic at the Winn-Dixie at SR 121 near I-10 in


Hobart Joost Jr., senior vice president of Colliers Dickinson and 2007 NAIOP

of Florida member, said he has heard of several South Florida developers who

have been looking around Baker County for large tracts of residential land

for developments of regional impact, or DRIs, as well as those seeking

industrial-zoned property. Baker County appears to be an area where there is

no shortage of commercial activity.

There are several other factors working in Baker Countyıs favor for growth,

according to local experts and market reports. One is its projected

population growth. The county, which in 2005 was home to 24,136 people, is

expected to grow 7.2% by 2010 < a rate slightly higher than that of the

areaıs biggest population center, Duval County, according to statistics from

the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Duval County is expected to grow at a

rate of 7.1% between 2005 and 2010.

Evans and other real estate experts in Northeast Florida point to the

increasing costs of industrial and residential property and lack of

developable land in Duval County as a primary impetus for the mounting

interest in Baker County real estate. According to CB Richard Ellis

research, the availability of Jacksonville industrial space fell from 17.7%

in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 11.1% in the fourth quarter of 2006 <

indicating an increasing need for space.

³Industrial land values close to the port in Jacksonville have tripled

during the past five years, affordable industrial land is extremely

difficult to come by,² said Joost.

Industrial land prices around the port are increasing because the city has

begun to attract a wider interest from logistics, manufacturing and

distribution companies. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. announced a 30-year lease

agreement with Jaxport to provide container ship service to Asia. Other big

announcements include the shipping lines Nordana Line Inc. and Atlantic

Container Line both beginning service from the port. In November, Jaxport

announced it had a 13% increase in the number of vehicles it handled through

the port during its 2006 fiscal year, making it one of the nationıs largest

vehicle-handling ports.

³We are very proud to be one of the largest and most successful vehicle

ports in the nation,² said Roy Schleicher, senior director of trade

development and marketing in a recent release. ³This success is attributable

to the combination of our outstanding auto processors and manufacturers,

ocean carriers, experienced labor force and the exceptional facilities

available here in Jacksonville.²

As these large companies have planned their openings, a surge of interest

from additional national firms has been felt in real estate circles. There

have been mounting requests for mega-sites of 500,000sf or more < sites that

are few and far between in Northeast Florida. One of the few area

developable pieces for large tenants is Cecil Commerce Center, where

Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC announced plans this June for

a 1 msf, $44 million distribution and logistics center, according to the

city of Jacksonville.

³Unless you want to build new industrial space in the ocean, youıre going to

have to go up 95 into Nassau County where all land values have appreciated

substantially < or go west out I-10 to Baker County,² Joost said.

Because land prices have been rising across Duval County for residential and

commercial projects, these firms and developers are beginning to take a

harder look at Baker County, Evans said.

³Once the rooftops come to Baker County, then the retail and office will

come,² Evans said. ³But the industrial component wonıt be driven by the

number of rooftops but by the number of vested and concurrent developable

acres. Thatıs what weıre lacking in Duval County.²

Baker County officials are so inundated with interest that they have not

assembled any collateral material touting the area. In an e-mail, Baker

County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Ginger Barber said

they have so many interested developers looking at the county that they

donıt need to do a lot of promotion.

³Theyıll have to figure out a way to deal with the growth and the

infrastructure now that this entire new spotlight is on them. Baker County

reminds me of Mandarin 25 years ago,² Joost said. ³But theyıve got good

people running things. Theyıre in good hands.²