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Building Boom Brings Jobs To Jacksonville

Rhema Thompson

Just off Beach Boulevard, east of Kernan Boulevard, a row of shiny, new Mediterranean-style homes teem with dozens of potential residents.The recent evening presented a few dozen guest with an early peek at a brand-new, 2,400-unit housing development planned for the prime location, planted right between downtown Jacksonville and the beaches.

Eight model homes, ranging from 1,900- to 4,500 square feet now sit on the once empty lot.

It’s the newest development by residential builder ICI Homes. Currently, the company has nine such communities in its northeast corridor. After a few long years of economic downturn, it is sign that things are finally looking up, said ICI Homes President Don Wilford.

"We’ve gone through the most devastating time ever," he said. "We were down for five or six years. We noticed about 18 months ago a strong resurgence of our business."

And it’s not just one company seeing a boost in the construction business.

Over the last few years, the construction in both commercial and residential development has been making a steady rebound in the area, according to Dan Blanchard, president of the Northeast Florida Builder’s Association.

"We’ve seen in 2011, ‘12, and ’13, about a one-third increase in construction in the four-county area," Blanchard said.

Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties make up that region.

The builders association reports that the number of building permits issued in that area has made a slow but steady climb from a low of just over 3,000 in 2011 to nearly double that in 2013. That includes in areas of Duval County’s previously hard-hit Northside.

"The Northside has had tremendous growth," he said. "There’s just tremendous growth opportunity, not only in the Northside but really throughout the four-county area."

He projects the number of building permits will reach 8,000 by the end of this year.

"Clearly there’s been a pent up demand over the years and we’ve got an economy that’s improving and there’s a lot of people who are looking to buy a new home," he said.

Credit Rhema Thompson / WJCT

There are large-scale businesses such as Medtronic and Vistakon looking to expand as well, said Broderick Green, director of business development at JaxUSA.

"Both companies have added onto their existing campus footprint to accommodate growth and that has been very encouraging because coming along with that capital investment has been an investment in jobs as well and those are projects that have happened within the last two years," he said.

When it comes to employment, Don Wilford, with ICI Homes, points out that the growth in both commercial and residential building brings a bump in well-paying jobs to the area.

"People don’t realize that construction runs our nation and when we’re not building houses, they’re not making appliances or toilets or cutting trees down and it’s just huge," he said. "You figure a $300,000 house has an impact where we're probably paying wages of $75,000 on that house."
The pace of the increase is slower this time around compared to before the 2008 economic crash. It is still a far cry from its 2005 high of nearly 18,000 permits a year, but Dan Blanchard with the Northeast Florida Builder’s Association said this time around the increase appears more sustainable.

"When you grow too fast, the market can’t keep up with you and even the growth that we’re having now is challenging for some of the contractors and suppliers to meet the needs of the market," he said. "But we’re getting there and it’s in a way that will work in the market."

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.