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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 15, 2019 8 months ago

Medical device maker wakes up a bedroom community

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When companies in high-tax states look for more business-friendly environs, Tampa Bay looks to be a landing site. A recent victory is a case in point.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Say goodbye to the era of Pasco County being one big “bedroom community” that supplies workers to companies in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Thanks to a $30 million investment by TouchPoint Medical, a subsidiary of Concordville, Pa.-based TouchPoint Inc., the county will receive an influx of 116 good paying jobs and a division of a multinational company that employees some 4,000 people in 25 countries. TouchPoint makes equipment carts and mounts for high-tech medical devices, with customers that include hospitals and health care facilities worldwide. 

Just like TouchPoint Medical, companies nationwide, with some regularity the past five years, have relocated to the Tampa Bay area, lured by fantastic weather and the low cost of living and doing business. Florida’s friendly tax laws and regulations also help, of course.

But the case of TouchPoint is a bit different, and invites a closer look because of the innovative thinking and strategy that went into it.

“We wanted to contribute to the local economy and be good neighbors,” says TouchPoint President Pascal Testeil, who’s been with the company for nearly 25 years. “We wanted to be in a dynamic place that would help us attract good talent.”

In a unique arrangement, when its 142,000-square-foot headquarters opens in January, TouchPoint will be the sole industrial resident of The Preserve, a new master-planned residential community just north of State Road 54 in Odessa, and within a mile of the Suncoast Parkway. Developed by Bob Starnes and his team at Palm Harbor-based BRS Industries LLC, The Preserve will offer more than 1,000 home sites, plus a smattering of retail and services, including a Publix Greenwise grocery store and a dermatology practice.

“Consolidating all of our resources under one roof will make us more efficient, but we’re also planning this building with growth in mind. We have a very aggressive growth target over the next five years.” Jessi Cravens, TouchPoint Medical project manager

“We are going to ‘live’ in a community, which is pretty unusual,” Testeil says, adding the arrangement was something the company sought because of how highly it values stability. “We’re a privately owned organization, and when we invest — we’ve been in business for 120 years; that’s not a short-term investment — we want it to be for a long time.”

TouchPoint Inc. President Brian McNeil says the diversified growth company, with roots that date back to 1899, has broken ground on plenty of new facilities worldwide, but The Preserve site sets a precedent. “I think this moment clearly demonstrates the power of aligning the shared interests of private and public resources to create something new and exciting,” he says.

FAMILIAR TERRITORY

TouchPoint’s decision to go all-in on Odessa and Pasco County was made easier by its familiarity with the Tampa Bay region. In addition to facilities in Connecticut and Atlanta, the company also has a location in Oldsmar, with about 100 employees. As it consolidates operations in Odessa and hires local workers to fill new jobs, TouchPoint will have about 230 people on staff.

Even with the labor shortage, Testeil doesn’t anticipate trouble filling positions. He thinks TouchPoint will be able to compete for and likely poach skilled workers from other companies. “There are a lot of people living here who have to travel down to Tampa for work," he says. "That’s attractive for us because we know we are going to have an available workforce, and attractive to them because they will have a much shorter commute.”

Testeil also cites easy airport access as a criterion that influenced TouchPoint’s choice of location. “We are building a global headquarters,” he says. “We’re going to bring a lot of people from all around the world here for training, working and collaborating on our engineering side, and we are going to bring a lot of customers here.”

Design and planning of the new facility started about a year ago, Testeil says. The company wanted to increase productivity and unite its disparate research, engineering and software teams under one roof. “We need to have everybody together,” he says. The high-tech work TouchPoint wants to expand into, he add, “is difficult when you have different locations.”

COUNTING DOWN

In the wake of the Feb. 6 groundbreaking for TouchPoint’s new facility, the tall order of keeping the transition on task falls to project manager Jessi Cravens, who says the budget is “not to exceed $30 million.”

The key milestone, she says, will be installing a roof by summertime, when the rainy season traditionally soaks the Gulf Coast. The builder, DPR Construction’s Tampa team, has been hired to build the flex-space facility, which Cravens says will be used for manufacturing, assembly and office space, plus interactive product displays for the benefit of customers who want hands-on experience with the firm’s offerings.

“Consolidating all of our resources under one roof will make us more efficient, but we’re also planning this building with growth in mind,” Cravens says. “We have a very aggressive growth target over the next five years.”

TouchPoint Medical, privately held, declines to disclose revenue.

Cravens says TouchPoint looked at potential sites in Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and all over Florida before settling on The Preserve in Odessa. “We liked the proximity to the Suncoast Parkway — it’s very convenient for our customers, our employees, and we wanted to be part of an up-and-coming neighborhood, and right now Pasco is exploding," she says. "And with this specific development, we were impressed we would be the only industrial neighbor.”

TouchPoint paid about $3.5 million to acquire the land, but Cravens says it wasn’t as easy as writing a check to the developer. Because The Preserve was planned all along to have space for just one industrial tenant, there was a competitive bidding process. She believes TouchPoint’s community-conscious bid put it over the top.

iSocrates executives Michael Weaver, far left, and Bill Lederer, far right, were welcomed to St. Petersburg by Mayor Rick Kriseman and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. Courtesy photo.

“Our leadership was very concerned about what we would be doing in the community, what we would be doing to the environment and if we would be giving employees the best experience and really catering to them,” she says.

Developing a state-of-the-art headquarters in a rapidly improving area also sends a powerful business message, Cravens adds. “Ultimately, we want to be customer-centric so it was really important to have a nice campus for customers, suppliers and potential partners to visit and see what we are all about. We grow by acquisition a lot, so we want it to be a showcase.”

DON’T GO IT ALONE

Cravens says the key to pulling off a transformative move like TouchPoint’s is to “surround yourself with experts.”

In deciding where to move, for example, TouchPoint consulted with another high-profile equipment manufacturer that recently moved to Pasco: Switzerland-based Mettler-Toledo. That firm struck a deal in 2016 to move its Hillsborough County operations to a new, $30 million, 250,000-square-foot facility in Pasco, not far from where TouchPoint will be located. In a corresponding move, Mettler-Toledo closed its plant in Ithaca, N.Y., and moved that operation to Pasco.

It also helps to develop good relationships with the local economic development council. “That’s been key on the permitting side of things with the county,” Cravens says. The Pasco EDC has helped expedite the permitting time for TouchPoint so it can meet its grand opening date early next year.

Outsourcing tasks like employee recruitment is another way to free up time and resources, Cravens says. Thanks to its corporate parent, TouchPoint Medical has a Philadelphia-based recruiting team, but it has also called upon local employment offices and staffing agencies to bolster its ranks. “We’re tackling it from all angles,” she says. “It’s a multifront battle.”

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells holds up TouchPoint as a prime example of how local governments will get out of the way, and even make things easier, for companies that bring great value and do things right.

“Workforce, operating costs and the ability to get up and running as quickly as possible is important to TouchPoint, and it’s important to us," Wells says. "We’re not in the permitting business or the development business — we’re in the customer-service business — and it’s been a priority from Day One to get TouchPoint up and running. We’re very excited about the jobs and economic growth coming to Pasco County. We are not a bedroom community anymore. We are open for business.”

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