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Texas, Michigan, and Florida Receive 2010 Silver Shovels: Over 10 Million Population Category

June/July 10
Think of business in Texas, and you might think of J.R. Ewing and a cabal of ten-gallon-hat-toting oil tycoons. In the real-life Texas, there's surely plenty of oil. But current growth trends are considerably more diversified, with healthcare leading the way as Medtronic opens a new $24 million medical technology operation in San Antonio, creating 1,400 jobs in the process. The 150,000-square-foot facility has captured the excitement of business leaders and public officials in the Lone Star State, which claims a major achievement at persuading the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of medical equipment to locate in San Antonio. Its operation will focus on diabetes-related technology.

In Houston, Farouk Systems is investing $26 million to expand its beauty products facility, adding 1,200 jobs in the process. Flat irons, dryers, and other hair care tools form the core of Farouk's product base, and while it has largely been known for manufacturing in China, product safety scares and a desire to expand U.S. operations made Houston the company's recent choice.

In a state as large as Texas, major development projects are fairly widespread geographically, from a $97.8 million expansion by Nationwide Mutual Insurance in San Antonio to a $500 million data center construction by Cisco Systems in Allen. And don't think oil is pushed out of the picture by any means. Lubrizol is expanding its oil and lubricants plant in Deer Park and adding 500+ workers, while Jefferson Refinery is opening a new operation in Hamshire. But traditional fuels are sharing the spotlight with biomass, which is the focus of a new $500 million plant in Sacul to be operated by Southern Power.

While no state has endured harder times in recent years than Michigan, positive news on the development front may offer some hope that the state's economy may be turning a corner. Long dependent on the auto industry for jobs and its tax base, Michigan's list of top projects is refreshingly diversified, which reflects on the state's recent emphasis on new industry categories, particularly alternative energy.

And even though some of the state's top projects have an automotive focus - including a $43 million venture undertaken by General Motors - the revived facility in Wayne County's Brownstown Township is not for making cars, but rather auto battery packs. The first advanced lithium-ion battery for a mass-marketed electric vehicle will be manufactured at a previously idled facility, creating 130 jobs. Up the road in Livonia, A123 Systems will open a $55.7 million facility producing the same kind of product and creating 844 jobs.

Peppered throughout Michigan are projects with a modern bent, including a $37 million expansion in Holland of a wind energy composites facility by Energetx Composites, and a $41.2 million expansion by Draths Corp. of its bio-materials plant in Okemos. Dow Corning also gets into the alternative energy game, constructing a $158 million facility in Thomas Township for the manufacture of solar energy-related products.

Looking to our nation's South, hot weather in Florida isn't surprising, but the "hot" economic activity taking place in the Sunshine State may be surprising to some.

For economic development officials in Pasco County, the decision of T. Rowe Price to bring a $191.5 million financial services center to the community - complete with more than 1,200 new jobs - is more than just a score. It's a chance to elevate the community's reputation from one that offers merely service jobs to one of professional achievement and compensation to match it.

Mark Ruhe, vice president of real estate with T. Rowe Price, said local and state officials played a huge role in getting the deal done. "We have the opportunity to compare (this deal) to several other such acquisitions that we have done around the country in about the last 20 years," Ruhe said. "Compared with some other state organizations and economic development groups that we've worked with, I would put Florida and Pasco County right at the top of the list."

Another major score for Florida, also in the professional services sector, was the decision of Navy Federal Credit Union to expand its remote in-bound call center in Pensacola. The $81 million facility, originally constructed in 2003, will add 800 jobs. With no income tax, Florida has recently become more aggressive at using its advantages and business-friendly policies to spur growth. Other successes occurred in the areas of solar panels, digital media, and alternative energy products.

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