ST. PETERSBURG — Jabil Circuit Inc., one of the Tampa Bay area's largest high-tech employers, is thinking about moving, and the fight to keep the global electronics manufacturer and its 1,900 jobs in St. Petersburg could just be heating up.
"As part of our overall strategic planning process, we are looking into the possibility of a new manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters," Beth Walters, a Jabil spokesman, said Tuesday. "We are exploring several options, and we are evaluating the potential of extending our relationship with the city of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the state of Florida."
One of Jabil's options, Walters said, is to rebuild in St. Petersburg using grants and tax breaks totaling nearly $35-million. In exchange, the company would employ an extra 860 people and build a $52-million campus.
Jabil already paid $13.4-million for 94 acres in St. Petersburg, on the northwest corner of Interstate 275 and Gandy Boulevard. Two years ago, the company unveiled plans to build a 2-million-square-foot headquarters on the vacant land. But as it has for the past quarter century — when Jabil chose to relocate here from Detroit — the company's headquarters remain at Gateway Business Park on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.
Jabil's high-tech and better-paying jobs and globally competitive skills make it just the type of company Florida covets. But as for tax breaks, Florida for now is not a good place to be looking for help. Gov. Charlie Crist last week ordered all state agencies to reduce spending by 4 percent in the coming fiscal year, one day after signing an already pared-down state budget. Cities and counties are under the same pressure.
"We want Jabil's future to be in St. Petersburg, and of course, we would work with Jabil to make sure that happens," said Dave Goodwin, the city's director of economic development. "But the city is not offering. We don't have $35-million."
In similar situations, Enterprise Florida, the state's top business recruitment agency, has stepped in. John Adams, the agency's president, warned last month that Florida has become a "target-rich environment" for other states eager to waive economic incentives and steal away good-paying jobs. Florida lost 25,300 jobs in April, the worst performance of any state in the nation. And the state's unemployment rate has crept up to 5.5 percent, on par with the nation's, while Tampa Bay's rate stands at 5.6 percent.
Goodwin would not confirm whether the city and Enterprise Florida were locking arms to try to keep Jabil from moving. Such negotiations are confidential. But Goodwin said the city often works with Enterprise Florida, the county and others "to put together packages for different companies and make our best efforts to keep them here.
"We hope to be successful every time," he said.
Enterprise Florida, however, has problems of its own. Earlier this month it declared it has a budget shortfall of more than $1-million, was eliminating nine jobs, scrapping five international trade missions, closing offices in Brazil and Taiwan, and trimming its $1.6-million marketing budget by $200,000.
Enterprise also revealed it had reached only 50 percent of its statewide job-recruitment goal of 26,000 and 60 percent of its business investment goals for 2007-08.
Still, that didn't hide Goodwin's fear of losing Jabil Circuit.
"The outcome would be dreadful," Goodwin said, "if Jabil decided to go somewhere else. Yes, budgets are tight, but budgets will be tighter if companies like Jabil leave our area."
On Tuesday, Jabil posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit. The company, whose major customers include Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia, said net income in its fiscal third quarter was $38.4-million, or 19 cents per share. That is up from $6.2-million, or 3 cents per share, in the year-ago third period. Revenue in the third quarter climbed to $3.09-billion from $3-billion.
Tom Zucco can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8247.