City leaders promote River City across the pond

Mayor Lenny Curry: 'We understand that this is a global economy'

LONDON – City and business leaders envision a bright future for Jacksonville as they push to improve the local economy by making big business deals with European companies.

This business expansion has been facilitated especially in London where the Jacksonville Jaguars have played for three straight years. Now that the season is over for the team, News4Jax is examining the economic impact the organization has brought to the River City.

A huge city with even bigger opportunities, London is a place of dreams and endless possibilities for budding businesses. Local leaders are using the Jaguars' International Series games to their advantage.

Just ask the executives at The HCI Group.

CEO Ricky Caplin knows what it takes to solicit clients from across the world. Caplin co-founded the Jacksonville-based healthcare IT consulting firm with company president Greg Jones in 2009.

Caplin took News4Jax along in October as he met with clients in London. Caplin and other company representatives work with hospitals, healthcare clinics and firms all across Europe.

"Our goal is to be the global leader in health care technology consulting," Caplin said. "I think we're well on our way, but we've got a long ways to go."

The HCI Group has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the country, doing business on four continents managing more than 1,000 people. The startup has made the Inc. 5000 list for 3 years in a row. It earned Caplin the 'Florida Entrepreneur of the Year' award from Ernst & Young.

Awards aside, Caplin said investing in Europe is simply smart business.

"London is a very large, robust economy. I can get to London almost as quickly as I can get to San Francisco or Seattle," Caplin said. "And so it's a population of almost 60 million people when you look at the United Kingdom's population and London's the mecca of that. They're one of the financial meccas of the world."

Over the past three years, Caplin said his company used the Jaguars' London games and the NFL as a conversation starter – a way to put Jacksonville on the map as a global city.

The HCI Group's International Director, Anthony Binge, moved from Jacksonville to the UK to build relationships year round now that the company has opened an office in Wales. Binge said having the NFL games, especially the Jaguars', in London has helped business.

"It's brand recognition for the city, it's brand recognition for the Jaguars, and for us as an organization that comes from that city. It's something that we use to tell the world where we're from," Binge said.

Jacksonville city leaders are pounding the pavement in the UK as well.

Chairman of the JAX Chamber John Delaney is one of many chamber members who made the trip across the pond this year to promote the First Coast. 

VIEW: Jaguars’ London Agenda for 2015

"At the last two meetings within five minutes they've said, 'You don't have to sell Jacksonville anymore, we're sold," Delaney said.

Delaney, Jacksonville's former mayor, is now the president of the University of North Florida.

Jacksonville's current mayor, Lenny Curry, agrees. He said like any business or relationship, it takes some time to build.

"Look the statement is, we understand that this is a global economy. Jacksonville is on the cusp of the international city," Curry said. "You have to believe in something, you have to be intentional if that's where you want to be."

Details of many of the meetings are kept confidential, leaders said, so that deals aren't compromised.

The trips to London aren't free. While the Chamber doesn't use public funds, travel records obtained from the City of Jacksonville show the mayor's week-long trip cost taxpayers about $2,536. The executive director of the city's Economic Development Office, Kirk Wendland, expensed about $5,363 to the city.

Curry's trip was less expensive because he attended a fundraising event for a political committee. The group picked up some of his tab.

Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson also made the trip, but paid for it himself.

According to Curry, the travel expense is money well spent.

After the 2015 visit, global firm Resource Solutions announced it has plans to open a global service center in Jacksonville, creating 75 jobs. In exchange, company is seeking $225,000 in incentives from the city.

Matt Galnor, the communications director for the Jax Chamber, said several deals have already been signed thanks to local leaders' trips to England.

·       Last year, Greencorp Group, an Irish food company, signed a deal bringing 283 factory jobs to Jacksonville.

·       Deutsche Bank announced an additional 350 high-wage local jobs.

·       London's P1 Powerboat company will host yearly races in Jacksonville.

All three deals came from meetings before the 2013 Jaguars game. The city is offering tax incentives as part of the agreements.

JAX Chamber leaders said they expect even more jobs announcements from their meetings in the next few months.

Caplin hopes city leaders continue to show Jacksonville can compete on a global scale, attracting more business deals. Meanwhile, he's still expanding his company in the private sector.

Recently, The HCI Group's leaders used their relationships in England to acquire another company, High Resolution Consulting and Resourcing. The firm is a leader in the UK with hundreds of employees. The HCI Group's executives hope it will make their global footprint even bigger. Read about details of HCI’s acquisition here.


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