Verizon Communications' decision to build a finance center in Lake Mary with up to 750 high-paying jobs was cheered by Seminole County leaders Wednesday as the kind of employment growth Central Florida badly needs.
"I don't think we've seen an announcement this large in a while -- certainly not in the past five years," said John Krug, Seminole County's economic-development director. "This is really good news because there are a lot of people out there -- especially in this area -- that need good jobs. This is one of the bigger projects that has come into not just Seminole County but into the state of Florida in terms of job creation."
During a news conference in Lake Mary, Gov. Rick Scott said the wireless carrier's new center off International Parkway will bring together Verizon's accounting, finance, payroll and back-office operations from other areas in the country into a new four-story building. The state lured the center with an offer of up to $7.5 million in incentives.
The center is expected to create 300 jobs by the end of 2014 and then grow to 750 jobs over the next two years, company officials said.
The accountants, managers, financial analysts and other employees at the center will be paid an average salary of $55,000. Although Verizon expects to move some current employees from other states to Lake Mary, company officials said most of the center's workers would be hired locally. Those working at the center will not deal directly with customers, Verizon officials said.
Verizon also said it plans to build a 200,000-square-foot, four-story building on Heathrow Park Lane, just off International Parkway. The parkway, which runs parallel to Interstate 4, has several other large office complexes, including AAA's world headquarters.
Construction on the $30 million building is expected to begin in about three months, with Verizon moving in by the end of 2014. While the building is being constructed, Verizon employees will work out of an office building at 901 International Parkway.
"This probably is the most significant announcement we've had in a while, and to my knowledge one of the largest-scale projects in recent years," Lake Mary Mayor David Mealor said. "This may actually be a signal that we're coming out of the downturn that we've experienced in the last few years."
Mealor compared Verizon's announcement to AT&T's decision to set up operations in Lake Mary in the mid-1990s, adding 1,500 new jobs.
Verizon would be the latest company to bring high-wage jobs to Seminole's I-4 corridor. Others include Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Liberty Mutual Insurance and the Internet security company Symantec.
Verizon Vice President Michelle Robinson said her company spent more than a year scouting spots around the country to locate a new financial hub. In the end, it chose Lake Mary based on "a wide array of factors," including quality of life, low cost of living and nearby colleges and universities that have a significant number of business graduates, such as the University of Central Florida and Rollins College.
"Once the evaluation was complete, Seminole County and Lake Mary emerged as the ideal location for Verizon," Robinson said.
Jacqueline Brito, an assistant dean of Rollins' Crummer Graduate School of Business, welcomed Verizon's move because encouraging local college graduates with advanced business degrees to remain in Central Florida is a challenge.
"Because we don't have a large number of corporations as an employment option for these graduates, they tend to leave Florida and go to other cities to look for jobs," Brito said. "So it's in our best interest to be able to retain those graduates in this area because it stimulates growth in the marketplace. So this is very good for this community."
County leaders also welcomed the news.
"This is huge," said Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine. "These are the types of jobs that build communities."
Through Enterprise Florida and Workforce Florida, the state offered tax incentives totaling $6 million to attract Verizon, which will consolidate its financial operations at the Lake Mary center and at a similar hub in Tulsa. Okla. Those incentives include Florida's Qualified Target Industry Program, which gives tax rebates to companies for each high-wage job created.
The state also offered up to $1.5 million in job training incentives through Workforce's Quick Response Training program. The money can be used to provide additional training for newly hired workers.
Verizon officials said they were confident that the company will be able to add 750 workers to Central Florida by 2016.
"We're a Fortune 100 company, and we're a growing company," said Chuck Hamby, Verizon's public-relations manager in Florida. "We feel very comfortable that we'll be able to reach that number."
Verizon, which had revenue of $116 billion in 2012, has more than 183,000 employees, including 10,000 in Florida. Last year it was ranked 15th among Fortune 500 companies.
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