— Steve’s Marketplace —

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

Laura DiBella, Director, Nassau County Economic Development Board (NCEDB)
Laura DiBella, Nassau County Economic Development Board

Laura DiBella is leaving her dream job as director of economic development for Nassau County after a new reality is setting in here.

The reality is that our feelings about economic development are changing, as uncontrolled growth has infringed on our idyllic lifestyle. Meanwhile, a deluge of industrial/commercial/residential development awaits at our doorstep. And many residents are questioning how much more we need or want.

If an area is not growing, it is stagnating. We need a vibrant economy, for jobs and for a balanced tax base. But we cannot sell our quality of life to get there.

In reflection, DiBella’s tenure was extraordinary. She oversaw the groundbreaking of the massive Wildlight development in Yulee. Also, the expansion of the Crawford Diamond Industrial Park and the construction of the LignoTech plant in Fernandina Beach happened under her watch. Tirelessly, she has also helped improve the Port of Fernandina.

We are better prepared for the future with a more balanced economy. DiBella has been pivotal in these efforts. Heck, our future is as bright as the Florida sunshine.

Look at our jobs market. The unemployment rate in Florida is low, and ours is even lower. This is a condition that has two sides, however – the obvious, and the not so obvious. Obviously, we want high-paying jobs. Not so obvious is the shortage of qualified workers this creates.

Rayonier corporate headquarters building photo. Located in Wildlight community, Yulee, Nassau County, Florida.
Rayonier Corporate Headquarters, Wildlight in Nassau County

Within Nassau County, an economic nirvana has been fractured by the friction between the county and Wildlight, a Rayonier-led development. Lawsuits have arisen over disagreements about who pays for what within Wildlight.

Rayonier is our biggest corporate partner, and has relocated its trendy headquarters here. If done right, the Wildlight project will enhance our economy with a delectable blend of industrial, retail and residential developments. It should become an economic driver that benefits both sides of the county.

In her resignation letter, DiBella encouraged unification.

“An environment that thrives on conflict is not healthy for … economic development as a whole,” she wrote. “I pray that everyone will come together in a civil and unified front as one county.”

Laura DiBella, Director of Nassau County Economic Development Board

You see, the county had an open-arms approach to any development for many years. We didn’t have many takers. That has obviously changed.

Now, we must be more selective. Many residents want things to slow down. The county has even debated cutting the funding for DiBella’s department, which fosters economic development.

So DiBella is taking a newly created position as executive director at the Florida Harbor Pilots Association in Tallahassee. She will promote the activities of the 14 deepwater ports in Florida.

She leaves behind an enviable situation. The Wildlight Commerce Park is a 160-acre “major job center” along Highway 17, soon to open. Several sizable projects at the Crawford Diamond are on the verge of happening. In Fernandina Beach, the facelift of blighted South Eighth Street has begun.

DiBella says the economic situation here “is great.” We have ample space, a proximity to a major airport and two interstate highways and two railways, and multiple ports. In conjunction with these assets, “There is still plenty of runway for more economic development,” she says. “But we need to keep balancing out our economic equation.”

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Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas, Financial Advisor

Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a U.S. brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website.  He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of some of his favorite columns over the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].