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Economic Development: $500,000 Banner Center Disappears; Rail Spur Not a Panacea

Posted January 09, 2015  10:35 am

Chairman DePratter mostly listened and took notes at the meeting.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) entered the New Year with County 5 Chairman, Rusty DePratter at the helm. Mr. DePratter ran a relaxed meeting and gave everyone a chance to participate. Half way through the meeting, in which it was announced that the deal for the rail spur into Columbia County's inland port had finally been signed, the County's Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, brought up the long forgotten half a million dollar Banner Center, which was another highly touted Florida financed economic development fiasco.


In 2007, Workforce Florida, which is now under the umbrella of the FL Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), awarded Lake City Community College a $500,000 grant to establish the Employee Florida Banner Center for Logistics and Distribution. In a press release at the time, Katherine E. Wilson, the chairwoman of Workforce Florida said, "The newest center demonstrates our state's commitment to strengthen the workforce in an industry that is vital to just about every other business sector in Florida."

Around the same time, the Columbia County IDA (Industrial Development Authority) donated $200,000 of Columbia County tax dollars to the County's School district to build a warehouse for student training in logistics. The IDA is now part of the EDAB.

Link: Columbia County's inland port decades late

At Wednesday's meeting, Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, mentioned that there is a shortage of big rig truck drivers in the Lake City area, which brought up a brief discussion about the former Banner Center. It was also mentioned that warehouse workers will be a needed commodity in Columbia County when the Inland Port, now the Intermodal Park – a Plum Creek project, gets off the ground.

In the logistics business one needs truck drivers and warehouse workers.

Mr. Hunter said, “It could have been beneficial for us if the Banner Center was still open. Some of the areas we are in competition with have a better framework for providing those drivers."

Businessman Terry Dicks

EDAB member and trucking executive and owner, Terry Dicks, explained the purpose of the Banner Center, “We would work with Lake City Community College (now Gateway College) to recruit, train, and retain drivers."

According to Mr. Dicks, the Banner Center had a driver simulator. This was similar to the simulators used to train pilots.

No one knew what happened to the simulator and it was mentioned that some of the stuff from the Banner Center went to the Bradford County School District.

Gateway College President, Chuck Hall, a member of the EDAB, may have been able to shed some light on what happened to the simulator, the money, and the Banner program if he attended the meeting, but he wasn't there.


The approval of the rail spur, which took about 4 Florida years and probably would have taken two weeks in Georgia, has many believing that this is a panacea for the Inland Port or Intermodal Park and will have industry flocking to Columbia County.

County residents will be paying to maintain the spur and the recent remarks by County Manager Dale Williams, quoted in the local print paper, that taxes from the businesses that locate in the park will pay for the maintenance of the spur, is nothing but a pipe dream.

The recent poor showing of Columbia County's high schools, now rated "C" schools is also not encouraging, particularly in light of the fact that for 4 years running Columbia High was a "D" and Fort White's High School barely missed being a "D" school this year.

As one high ranking public official, with the expectation of anonymity, recently told the Observer, "The kids here get an education and leave. There is nothing for them here."

In the civilized world, the school district is the anchor to the community.

The County 5 should take note, because those in the economic development community, those looking to locate business with high-paying jobs that require enhanced jobs skills, do.

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