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World’s Largest Cocktail Party
The #1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs come into Jacksonville to face a Florida Gators team that has seen better years.
At the same time, the Atlanta Braves feature in the World Series.
Pandemic? What pandemic? Downtown bars will be lit (with a capital L). Georgia fans and travelers appear likely to be somewhat happier than those from the Sunshine State, at least before the game starts.
We know that almost anything can and does happen during the game itself and the night before. That’s the way it was in 2019, before the pandemic. And 2009, 1999, 1989, etc.
Mayor Lenny Curry prioritized keeping the neutral-site game here, and it’s in no immediate danger of relocation.
As the city expands and deepens the offerings at the Sports Complex, expect that the spectacle of this event will intensify. The game will stay in Jacksonville through 2025 after the Council voted to approve terms Tuesday.
Does it make money for the city?
Jacksonville expects roughly $700,000 revenue and a $30 million economic impact. But money isn’t the draw.
“The other part of this is the tradition, this year. There’s an intangible that even far outweighs the economic impact,” Curry said, quoted by Action News Jax.
For fans in attendance, this year will be typical. Worries won’t be masks versus no masks or mix-n-match vaccines. First downs, touchdowns, and refills of the obligatory adult beverages will be the concerns of those in the stands.
It will be, in other words, the World’s Largest Cocktail Party again. (Even though that’s not the official brand.)
The week of the FL-GA game is one of our favorite of the year 🏈 There's so many activities and events surrounding this great Jacksonville tradition, Mayor @lennycurry, the @jsopio, @thejfrd, and @JaxEvents want to make sure all of our visitors enjoy it safely. pic.twitter.com/quaDkHNSon
— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) October 25, 2021
U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz and Ambassador Nikki Haley teamed up on an op-ed this week urging a permanent alliance with India.
“The place to start is India. It’s time to form an alliance,” the two wrote in an essay in Foreign Policy.
“As a nuclear power with more than 1 million troops, a growing navy, a top-tier space program, and a proven history of economic and military cooperation with the United States, India would make a strong ally. An alliance with India would allow both countries to maintain and expand their global strength. And together with Japan and Australia, it would enable the United States to form a real deterrent to potential terrorist threats in Afghanistan as well as counter China.”
The essay includes slashing denunciations of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy while hearkening back to the previous White House for plaudits.
“Establishing an alliance is the natural result of recent momentum. The United States and India drew closer together during the Trump administration; one notable achievement was the signing of the 2018 Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement. That deal granted India more advanced communication technology for U.S.-purchased defense equipment to help elevate coordination during a conflict. In October 2020, the Trump administration and the Indian government signed another agreement for geospatial cooperation that boosted the Indian military’s weapons systems with advanced navigational tools,” Haley and Waltz contend.
It is unlikely the Biden administration will take foreign policy guidance from this, but it allows the two Republicans (Haley, a potential candidate for President in 2024) a platform to establish a firm position on the record.
Speaking of the post-pandemic mindset, Surgeon General Joe Ladapo pretended it was over last week when he refused to mask up when meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky, who has a cancer diagnosis.
Ladapo’s boorishness didn’t go over well with Senate President Wilton Simpson, who issued a memo stating that Senators determine mask and distancing policies within their own offices.
Some have suggested this incident will scotch Ladapo’s confirmation. But if Northeast Florida Republicans have turned on him, there is little indication.
St. Johns County’s Travis Hutson indicated he is unhappy but has not yet decided on the Ladapo nomination.
“I’m not happy with the events that I have read in an article, but I have not made up my mind on where I stand on the confirmation,” Hutson said.
“Best not to comment,” remarked Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach.
Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island likewise raised concerns.
“I’m impressed with Dr. Ladapo for many reasons, but the incident with Sen. Polsky is not one. That being said, I will give his confirmation my full and fair consideration.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ nominee puts them in a challenging situation, one of the Governor’s Office’s own making. Expect confirmation hearings of Ladapo to be full of spicy quotes from Democrats, when and if they happen. Republicans, however, have a different set of political considerations in play.
Bold expects that, by our next issue, we will finally see City Councilman Garrett Dennis make his next move.
There was buzz that he would run for a higher office in the 2019 elections. While that didn’t happen, he’s slated to file Monday for the seat that will be open in House District 13.
Current Rep. Tracie Davis is running for Senate. Davis and Dennis have worked together for decades, going back to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.
Dennis will be the second official candidate, joining Iris Hinton in the Democratic field.
Caveats apply. House Legislative Redistricting Committee Chair Cord Byrd suggests that the map could be “radically changed” in the remapping process currently underway. And allies of Davis’ opponent in the Senate race, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney (no friend of Dennis’ on the Council), could put up another candidate.
Dennis had an opponent in his 2019 reelection campaign, but despite Republican money propping up that challenge, he coasted to an easy win.
Will getting to the House be so easy?
Six names have been advanced to fill the vacancy on the Duval County Court created by the departure of London Kite, who DeSantis appointed to the Circuit Court.
Three men and three women advanced. “One nominee is a general magistrate and hearing officer, one is an assistant public defender, two are assistant state attorneys, and two are attorneys in private practice,” notes the Jacksonville Daily Record.
The names in play include general magistrate Brooke Brady, private lawyer Matt Lufrano, 4th Circuit Assistant State Attorney Lara Mattina, private lawyer Barry Newman, 4th Circuit ASA Jonathan Sacks, and 4th Circuit Assistant Public Defender Susan Zerbe.
All candidates will head to Tallahassee for interviews. DeSantis has 60 days to fill the opening with one of the six nominees, or ask for a new batch of names.
Some things are inevitable in Jacksonville. That rich chemical smell on parts of the Westside. People explaining away their moves to St. Johns County, kvetching about commute times and Plant Vogtle cost overruns.
That last one is the one that will leave a mark.
WJXT reports that costs will go even higher, with a delay on the reactors needed to complete the build of the Georgia nuclear plant.
“The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. now says the third reactor at Plant Vogtle won’t start generating electricity until sometime between July and September of next year. Previously the company said it would start in June at the latest. The fourth reactor won’t come online until sometime between April and June 2023,” the station notes.
JEA obligated itself to power purchases from Vogtle, and the cost of that power was a controversy a few years back when energy costs were lower. The utility tried and failed to break the deal.
Ironically, nuclear power may not be such a bad deal in the current climate. Assuming, of course, they can ever get the whole plant up and running.
Back to work
The Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3.7%, according to new data posted by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
New numbers show the region has added 32,400 new private-sector jobs as the unemployment rate has fallen 1.5 percentage points since September 2020.
More than a quarter of the new jobs were created in the leisure and hospitality industry, which has been among the hardest hit during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The stats are based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the Jacksonville metropolitan area, including Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties.
DEO also highlighted continued growth in the labor force, which neared 835,000 people last month — an increase of 51,168, or 6.5%, year-over-year.
The positive numbers for Jax came alongside a 17th consecutive month of job gains statewide. In all, Florida added 84,500 jobs in September, which DeSantis credits to businesses knowing “that Florida will stand up to them.
The statewide unemployment rate was 4.9% for September 2021, representing a 0.1 percentage point drop the month prior and a 2.3 percentage point drop from September 2020. The national jobless rate is 4.8%, 0.4% lower than a month ago and 3% lower year-over-year.
DEO notes that September data shows more than 520,000 Florida job openings are posted online, which outstrips the number of unemployed Floridians by 3,000.
The Biden administration recently announced plans to keep West Coast ports open 24/7 in response to the supply chain crisis, but one Jax business owner says a different fix is needed.
During an interview on Fox Business, Patriot Transportation CEO Rob Sandlin said even if ports unload cargo around the clock, there won’t be enough truckers to move goods to their final destination.
“The truck drivers in this country are already working to the full extent of their hours, and we’ve just got a shortage of drivers in this country to move those products in and out of ports and to deliver products around the U.S.,” he said. “ I just don’t believe that we’re going to be able to just add hours and run these drivers more than what we’re already doing today.”
The fix, he said, is more drivers.
“Trucking companies across the U.S. have raised their wages in excess of 15, 20, 25%. In our company, as an example, our application rates down to a third of what we had pre-COVID, when we had a lot of truck drivers leaving the trucking industry. And they just haven’t come back, and we don’t understand why,” he said.
“These are great jobs, making $75,000 to $100,000 a year. Our drivers are home every night, these are good regional jobs, so I think there’s, there’s a lot of opportunity out there, but we need some help getting these people back employed.”
Indeed, trucking companies are pulling out all the stops to attract drivers. As recently reported by News4Jax, Northeast Florida drivers are logging upward of 3,000 miles a week due to the shortage.
According to the American Trucking Association, the industry is short an estimated 80,000 drivers, forcing companies to offer up to $15,000 signing bonuses on top of salaries as high as $110,000 a year.
Nearly three dozen Duval County arts and cultural organizations have been awarded $3.1 million through the Cultural Service Grant Program.
CSGP is funded through the City of Jacksonville and administered by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. The program’s mission is to provide public support to arts and cultural organizations that contribute to Duval County’s quality of life.
The 2021-22 CSGP allotment is 20% higher than last year, allowing an additional $250,000 to head to a capital grant program to build, renovate and acquire cultural facilities.
“On behalf of the organizations funded through the Cultural Service Grant Program, the Cultural Council would like to thank the Mayor’s Office and City Council for their leadership and strong support of arts and culture,” said Cultural Council Board Chair Jannet Walker-Ford. “These increased dollars will help a sector greatly impacted by the pandemic to come roaring back.”
Cultural Council Executive Director Diana Donovan added: “This investment in arts and culture will not only help to support our strong, varied and vibrant nonprofit arts and culture sector in Duval County, but through the reboot of the capital grant program it will improve infrastructure that attracts cultural tourism and positively impacts neighborhood revitalization, including downtown.”
The grant funds will be split across 34 projects and entities, including seven in line to receive more than $300,000. These include the Cathedral Arts Project, the Cathedral Museum of Art & Gardens, the Florida Theatre, the Jacksonville Symphony Association, the Museum of Contemporary Art — Jacksonville, the Museum of Science & History and WJCT.
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce has decided on its 2023 board chair, and a hospital executive is on deck to take over.
Memorial Hospital CEO Bradley S. Talbert, who currently chairs the Chamber business recruiting arm JAXUSA Partnership, was selected by the Board of Directors last week.
“Brad is a trusted, respected leader who jumped in to get involved in our community as soon as he moved here,” JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis said. “Brad understands that a strong, unified business community is critical to a thriving economy, and he will be an excellent leader for our Chamber members.”
Talbert, who moved to Jacksonville just four years ago, is excited about the opportunity.
“We’re seeing incredible interest in Jacksonville right now, and one reason is the leadership of our business community working together to promote our city and help companies grow in our community,” Talbert said. “It’s an incredible honor to work with Ray over the next year and to be selected to lead the Chamber and its 3,000 members in 2023.”
Talbert made his mark since moving from South Carolina, where he was an economic ambassador for Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration. He is currently on the JAXPORT Board.
Attorney Ray Driver will serve as board chair in 2022.
The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership St. Johns program recently held a graduation dinner for 2020 and 2021 program graduates.
The dinner, held at Aunt Kate’s on the River in Vilano Beach, featured a keynote on servant leadership from St. Johns County Sheriff and 2017 LSJ alum Rob Hardwick as Chamber Chair Jim Bush from FPL and Chamber President and CEO Isabelle Renault distributed certificates to the graduates.
They join a network of more than 400 LSJ alumni, including influential St. Johns County leaders such as Hardwick, former St. Johns County Schools Superintendent and Flagler College President Dr. Joseph G. Joyner, current Superintendent Tim Forson, Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett, St. Augustine Distillery co-founder and CEO Phillip McDaniel and St. Augustine City Manager John Regan.
The new graduates include Trish Becker, Anastasia Mosquito Control Board; Randy Bradley, Northrop/Grumman; Jason Caban, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office; Jennifer Michaux, St. Augustine Police Department; Diane Denholm, Supporting Strategies, Northeast Florida; Melissa Derrick, St. Augustine Youth Services; Tres Edenfield III, St. Johns County Sherriff’s Office; Melissa Cecil, Flagler Health+; Whitney Kersey Graves, St. Johns County Tax Collector; Bonnie Hayflick, Bonnie Hayflick PR; Meghan Holder, Independent Agent, Primerica; Dawn Infanti, United Way; Lauren Howington, Herbie Wiles Insurance; Heidi Jameson, JAXUSA Partnership; Gurpreet Misra, Self Employed Entrepreneur; Vicky Ann Oliveri, St. Johns Title; Dianne Pittman, Watson Realty; Jennifer Ravan, St. Johns County Tax Collector; Christina Parrish Stone, St. Johns County Cultural Council; Josh Underwood, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office; Greg Wells, K9s for Warriors; Meredith Breidenstein, City of St. Augustine; and Casey Woolsey, Woolsey/Morcom PLLC.
The St. Johns County Chamber will begin accepting nominations for the 2022 class on Nov. 15 and LSJ program director Bob Porter said prospective applicants will become members of the most substantial Leadership alumni network in Florida.
More information on the program and how to submit nominations is available online.
Last week, the St. Johns County Education Foundation announced a wave of hires and promotions as well as a $95,000 grant.
New additions at the foundation, which operates as Investing in Kids! or the shorthand INK!, include Community and District Relations Achievement Director Cathy Newman, Underserved Communities Program Specialist Ila “Nena” Barrett.
Newman is renowned in St. Johns County as an economic development professional, an executive director and management team specialist, while Barrett is a Registered Behavior Technician and Therapist with expertise in general and special education as well as applied behavior analysis.
Additionally, James Wheeler, who has been the longtime program director of the Take Stock in Children program in St. Johns County, is now working to serve the organization in a role with the nonprofit’s assets and finance departments. Mike Michel, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is another TSIC staffer joining INK!
“We are proud to work with many educational and key influencers, plus a staff of professionals who operate an organization with teachers and students as their continuing focus,” said INK! Executive Director Donna Lueders.
This year, INK! has established a strategy for the present, the future, and a legacy to effectively reach our goals and to improve the organization by elevating key staff and funding for new professionals who have joined us,” she said. “These efforts will better equip our organization as we grow and expand programs and services.”
These personnel moves come alongside a grant from The Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. The $95,000 award will fuel the programs and services INK! offers through the School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program.
The Jaguars avoided NFL infamy by beating Miami in their last game, snapping a 20-game losing streak that was only six games away from tying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers legendary 0-26 start as an expansion team.
That done, the Jags enjoyed the bye week but are back at it this Sunday when they travel cross-country to Seattle to meet the Seahawks, who will be without injured quarterback Russell Wilson.
Jacksonville can feel good about its quarterback situation, though. Rookie Trevor Lawrence has made steady improvement in his first six games, giving the Jaguars lots of hope for the future.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told reporters that Lawrence, the overall No. 1 draft pick last spring, is right on schedule.
“I would expect it to continue; I really like where he’s at,” he said.
The biggest improvement for Lawrence is ball security. He had nine turnovers, including seven interceptions, in his first three games. He has reduced that number to two in the Jags’ last three games.
“Obviously, I’m playing more consistent, and taking care of the ball, I think is the biggest thing,” Lawrence said. “Beyond that, situationally, I think I’ve done a really good job the last couple of weeks. I would say turnovers and situational football I’ve gotten a lot better at.”
Lawrence could find an inviting target in the Seahawks’ struggling defense, which once was known as the Legion of Boom.
Now, though, it’s more like the Legion of Gloom. Seattle ranks last in NFL in yards allowed per game (433.2 yards).