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Trigaux: Beyond sedate St. Pete headquarters, Jabil competes in global fast lane

St. Petersburg-based Jabil recently opened Blue Sky Center, an innovation center in Silicon Valley that will display Jabil solutions to the "world's most complex problems." Photo Courtesy of Jabil.
Published Jun. 18, 2015

Twelve minutes drive north of downtown St. Petersburg sits the unremarkable headquarters of Jabil, the only visible sign of prosperity on most days being its packed employee parking lot.

In Tampa Bay, Jabil typically gets noticed as one more midsized tech employer of less than 2,000 local workers. The biggest curiosity is whether Jabil is still thinking about relocating its headquarters. Recent rumors hint of Jabil moving to U.S. 19 S, perhaps to or near the Ceridian office building, or to a location closer to the city core — perhaps near the Trop or even to some other site carved out of the heart of downtown. Not known for loose lips, Jabil has no comment on rumors.

Too often, we forget the Jabil we see here is the mere tip of an enormous iceberg. The contract electronics manufacturer employs worldwide more than 140,000 — the equivalent of nearly half the population of St. Petersburg.

In upbeat fashion, Jabil executives late Wednesday announced quarterly earnings, posting $4.4 billion in quarterly revenues, slightly below expectations, but earnings per share of 49 cents that met Wall Street's outlook. A weaker outlook, however, pushed down Jabil's stock in after-hours trading.

Jabil manufactures the casings for Apple's hugely popular iPhone 6. More than 100 million of the smartphone are expected to sell by this fall.

As Apple goes, so goes Jabil? It's hardly that simple.

Jabil CEO Mark Mondello told a gaggle of Wall Street analysts in a conference call that the company is well positioned for growth, not only by broadening its base of corporate customers but by increasing the "share of wallet" of brands Jabil already serves.

"I'm pleased with our performance year to date and I believe we're well-positioned and poised to capture further growth in fiscal 2016," said Mondello.

To prove Jabil's confidence, Mondello said the company decided to sharply expand its manufacturing space in Chengdu, China, by as much as 5 million square feet, and add factory space in Indonesia and Malaysia.

"We are fortunate to find ourselves where business conditions require more space," he said.

In St. Petersburg, we cannot see these towering expansions across the globe. But they are happening across cost-efficient Asia because a St. Pete-based company in an industry of cutthroat competition sees expansion possibilities.

Mondello also volunteered the importance of Jabil recently opening its own innovation center in Silicon Valley.

Why there? Because Silicon Valley is ground zero for U.S. technology innovation. And Jabil's "Blue Sky Center" needs to be where its sophisticated corporate customers go seeking solutions to problems. Since April, Jabil has hosted nearly 50 customers there to brainstorm ideas on how to transform their next products.

It would be great to have Blue Sky Center here. Some day. But at best, Tampa Bay is still a decade or two away from generating that kind of innovation intensity here.

But let's keep pushing hard toward such a lofty goal.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

Editor's note: This column was updated to clarify Jabil earnings did meet analyst expectations for the quarter. The original version was incorrect on this matter.

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