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  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 8:40 a.m. February 7, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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From alcohol shots in pouches to precision surgical instruments, companies up and down the Gulf Coast that make stuff are in growth mode.

At least a dozen companies from Tampa to Naples have completed or announced an expansion during the past year. A chunk from that list built or bought a new building. Nearly all the firms added employees, with the increases in payroll often aided by performance-based incentives and subsidies from state and county officials.

The expansion trend is happening statewide, says Nancy Stephens, executive director at the Manufacturers Association of Florida, a Tallahassee-based trade and lobbying group. Stephens cites a rebounding economy for the industry's early-stage recovery from the recession, in addition to banks that have begun to lend more. Another big factor: Government officials, in cities, counties and Tallahassee, have emphasized legislation and incentive packages that goose the industry's growth. Says Stephens: “The picture is really bright.”

The biggest threat that can darken the recovery, Stephens says, is the job skills gap that plagues many manufacturers. Stephens says there are currently 6,000 open manufacturing jobs in Florida. “Our biggest challenge is we can't find enough qualified workers to fill jobs,” Stephens says. “If we can fill those jobs we'd be doing much better.”

Here are some highlights of recent Gulf Coast manufacturing expansion news, by region.

Tampa Bay:
Covidien: A Dublin, Ireland-based manufacturer of health care products, including laparoscopic instruments and tools for electrosurgery and surgical stapling. The firm, according to a November announcement, plans to hire at least 165 people by 2017 for a 62,000-square-foot facility in Riverview, in east Hillsborough County. Covidien intends to invest $18 million in the project, according to a press release. State and Hillsborough County officials approved $825,000 in performance-based incentives for the jobs and expansion.

General Electric: The global conglomerate announced a $49 million expansion for its Clearwater-based subsidiary, Instrument Transformers, in November. The firm, in Pinellas County since the 1970s, manufactures electrical devices, voltage transformers and switches. Subsidies to aid the expansion, which includes 263 jobs, come in a tax break approved by Clearwater city officials that could save the firm $1.4 million over the next decade.

James Hardie: A manufacturer of fiber-cement siding products, the Dublin-based company announced an $80 million capital investment in its Plant City facility in December. The firm expects to hire 100 people and add 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space by 2015. The growth will double the site's production capacity, executives say, which was necessary to meet growing demand for its fiber-cement siding products. Incentives include a waiver of Plant City's transportation mobility impact tax, which saves the firm $37,300.

PGT: An impact-resistant window and door manufacturer, Venice-based PGT broke ground on a $15 million glass operations plant Jan. 9. The facility, down the road from the firm's headquarters and expected to open by the end of the year, will be 96,000 square feet. The expansion, say PGT executives, is a response to a surge in orders that began in 2013 for the firm, now with about 1,500 employees. The publicly traded company reported $177.27 million in sales through the first three quarters of 2013, more than the $174.5 million it posted for all of 2012.
“This tells such a great story about our region's economic recovery,” PGT President and CEO Rod Hershberger says in a release. “Seven years ago, we would have never thought this could happen.”

IRISS: The company, which manufactures industrial-grade infrared windows used by power generation facilities and other industrial customers, opened a new 32,000-square-foot facility in east Manatee County in April. The building, now the Lakewood Ranch-based firm's global headquarters, cost $5.7 million, including new equipment purchases. The firm, with about $8 million in annual revenues and 25 employees, announced another planned expansion to top that expansion in December. Performance-based incentives, from the state and Manatee County, were doled out for each announcement. “We chose our current site with expansion in mind,” CEO Martin Robinson says in a statement. “However, we never realized our growth would explode like it did in 2013.”

Redi-2DrinQ: The Sarasota-based firm makes and distributes stand-up pouches for beverages, including a variety of alcohol cocktails and its own brand, ShotPak. It's a division of PPi Technologies Group, also based in Sarasota, which manufactures machinery for stand-up pouch containers. Redi-2DrinQ, according to a January announcement, plans to move into a 100,000-square-foot facility a block away from its older, smaller plant. The firm plans to hire 25 employees over three years and spend $7 million on the expansion. Sarasota County officials approved up to $75,000 in incentives for the project to help keep the firm, which, according to the release, considered expanding in South America.

Fort Myers-Naples
Arthrex: The firm, a Naples-based medical device manufacturer with clients worldwide and a list of more than 7,000 products, opened a $25 million plant in east Collier County in October. The 190,000-square-foot, two-story facility includes at least $15 million in equipment. Collier County handed out $2.2 million in performance-based incentives to aid the expansion. Arthrex expects to hire up to 500 people for new facility.

Pelican Wire: GrowFL, an economic gardening program, named the company, which manufactures specialty wires for the medical, aerospace and flooring industries, a Top 50 Growing Company to Watch in Florida in 2013. The Naples-based firm has 75 employees, up from around 60 three years ago, and sales were up about 15% in 2013 over 2012, says Pelican Wire President Ted Bill. It's run out of a 33,000-square-foot facility, where executives say the firm has room to expand its resistance and heater wire business, in addition to new business opportunities.

Air Technology Engines: The firm, which overhauls helicopter engines and manufactures other repair components, launched a 5,000-square-foot expansion of its Naples facility in late 2012. Air Technology Engines President Mike Turner, in a release, says the firm has grown recently in all areas and he expects to hire more employees and add product lines in the future.

At a glance
Manufacturing/Gulf Coast
More than a dozen Gulf Coast manufacturing firms have announced or completed expansions over the past year. Here's a sampling of the projected investments from some of the most notable projects.
- Jobs added or planned:
- At least 1,110
- Corporate investment: $215 million
- Government incentives: $4.5 million

The Manufacturers Association of Florida, a Tallahassee-based trade and lobbying group, delivered a presentation to Florida cabinet officials last year on the benefits of manufacturing investments. Some highlights:
- Florida has 18,099 manufacturers that employ 317,690 people.
- Florida is the fourth-largest state in the country for manufacturing facilities, and the 12th largest for manufacturing.
- More than 80% of Florida's exports are manufactured goods.


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