Head of the U.S. Small Business Administration Linda McMahon learned how brothers David and Jeff Turbeville run their Jacksonville peanut butter company, Tuesday. It was the launch of her Southeast small business tour.
Standing in a room with 2,300 pound bags of raw peanuts, Sunshine Peanut Company co-owner David Turbeville explained the manufacturing process. “We take them out of that door there and they’re picked up and taken into this plant to be roasted,” Turbeville said before taking McMahon in the roaring roasting room.
Sunshine takes the nuts from roasting to packaging, and the peanut butter is mostly used by schools and prisons. The business is in the Mixon Town area near the McCoy’s Creek and Stockton Street intersection, which is also an area the SBA has deemed a historically underutilized business zone, or “HUBzone.”
Businesses in those areas can get help from the SBA, including preference in securing federal contracts. They have to meet a series of requirements which include having at least 35 percent of their employees living in the zone. Sunshine exceeds that with 58 of its employees living in the area.
When McMahon stepped into Sunshine’s she asked, “what do you want me to know about what you do?”
Turbeville said first and foremost he believes in the HUBzone program. He employs a lot of people who have been incarcerated, even people who have committed homicide who are now managers, he said.
“I’m shocked at how well the local employees have done,” he said. “I’ve taken folks that have barely a GED and they’ve become managers and they take ownership and they really have done well.”
He said the business has doubled its employees from 22 to 44 over the past four years, but sometimes rules make it hard to grow.
“I have very low attrition rates,” he said. “Any of the attrition rates I’ve had to contend with have literally been because of challenges my brother’s received from other bureaucratic issues.”
A commitment to hiring mostly people living in the area is something Turbeville said he believes in, but he also called it a challenge. He has to work around probation appointments and some employees without reliable transportation.
McMahon said she’s looking into changing a HUBzone requirement so that if someone counting toward the required percent living in the zone wants to move because maybe they’re making more money, they can still count toward the requirement.
“Maybe they want to live in a little different district, maybe a little better school zone or that sort of thing,” she said.
McMahon said her takeaway is Sunshine Peanuts is a hard working family business.
‘“I think it’s important for them to know that their voices are being heard, that I can be an advocate for them in Washington, and just to have someone come out who’s interested in what they’re doing,” she said. “Sometimes it’s great to have all of your hard work and your ingenuity and your contributions to the economy appreciated.”
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.