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Columbia Cnty Making a Play for Sunbelt Forest Products (Project Sandra): Others also in the Hunt

Posted April 1, 2015  10:15 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday afternoon's County 5 meeting brought no surprises as County Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter pitched economic development incentive packages that were already discussed last week during the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting. Project Sandra was reported here. The incentive package needed the County 5's approval. Columbia County is not the only location in the hunt for Sunbelt's expansion.

The Incentives

According to the Project Summary, Sunbelt Forest Products (Project Sandra) will create $8,800,000 in new capital investment. The project will create 60 new direct full-time jobs. The average annual salary for these new jobs is $28,000. The County claims this salary is 17% above the market rate for Columbia County.

At post time it was not clear what is meant by "market rate" annual salary. In 2013 dollars the per capita income for Columbia as reported by the U.S. Census was $19,306.

According to the County, Sunbelt has requested an incentive package to be worth $360,000. Neither the state nor Lake City incentives were made available.

The 5 gave the County Staff unlimited latitude to negotiate with Sunbelt.

Economic Development Director Hunter explained the incentives: 30 acres off Bascom Norris Road (N. Side of the recently completed Bypass to Nowhere overpass) and a $10,000 survey package.

Mr. Hunter continued, "The end user needs to make a decision this week, whereby they can begin to do construction. The company is looking to make this a major North Florida headquarters for their operation. They need a shovel ready site by May 31, 2015."

Commissioner Nash asked, “Is it us having the site shovel ready?"

The answer was "Yes."

Commissioner Phillips wanted to know if the site was big enough.

Mr. Hunter answered, "It is what they asked for. At this time it could suffice for what they need.”

May 31, 2015: Can the County Deliver?

Mr. Hunter told The 5, "That may be a little critical for getting the job done. The problem is not having a complete shovel ready site. I have been assured by staff that we could have that site absolutely ready for permitting on that timeline."

According to everybody there are no problems with the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.

If Columbia County gets the project, Mr. Hunter said the company is expecting to complete the project in 4 to 6 months.

Chairman DePratter asked about state incentives. Mr. Hunter said, “I guess it [there] would be.”

Your reporter asked how much the in-kind contribution was going to cost the County.

County Manager Dale Williams answered, “I don’t know.”

The County's Role

County Manager Dale Williams told The 5, "We’ll do whatever we have to do to make the date. We won’t go out and offer something that’s unreasonable."

County Manager Williams said getting the site ready might include bringing in outside resources.

Ralph Kitchens asked how much the County's total investment was going to be.

Chairman DePratter answered, "We’ve gone through the incentives we are going to offer. We’ve left it open for staff to negotiate. Until we have a contract we can’t totally answer that question."


Columbia County is not the only County that may land this project. Sources have told the Observer that if the contract and the company determine that there will be more business in Alabama, Madison County may be more ideally situated. A Columbia County source mentioned that Baker County is also a strong contender for Project Sandy.

There are conflicting reports about a contract signing between Sunbelt and Lowes, with one report claiming the contract has been signed and the other that the contract won't be signed until May 1.


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