Florida's Finance Industry Flourishes
The Sunshine State has become a rainmaker for the financial services industry, attracting 32,868 financial service and insurance industry companies and employing 351,000 professionals in the field. Is it the business climate? The tax structure? The quality of life? Industry officials say yes, yes and yes.
In 2017, Florida ranked in the top two in Chief Executive Magazine’s annual list of Best States for Business. Over 300 hedge funds and private equity firms are based in the state, and most of the nation’s leading financial firms, including Aetna, Metlife and Fidelity, have a presence there.
Navy Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in the world with seven million members globally, began building its largest operations center in Florida in 2002. The center now has more than 5,800 employees on a one-million square-foot campus in Pensacola. An expansion project is underway that will double the campus size to two million square feet by late 2019, and bring total employees to 10,000 by the mid 2020s. “From our Pensacola Operations Center, we provide support for our members all around the world,” said Bill Pearson, Navy Federal Credit Union spokesman. “It has truly been a success story, and it wouldn’t be possible without the overwhelming support of local and state leaders.” The credit union, with 28 branches in Florida from Miami to Jacksonville and Tampa to Pensacola, serves all branches of the military, as well as veterans and their families, and the U.S. Dept. of Defense.
The credit union offers a full-service suite of lending and deposit products. In 2001, when the private, not-for-profit company began looking to build an operations complex, Florida was the natural choice for many reasons, Pearson said. Pensacola’s strong military presence, including the Naval Air Station, was a plus. Access to international airports and efficient transportation infrastructure also assured access to branches and credit union members around the globe, Pearson said. “But the number one reason we came here and the number one reason we continue to grow here is quality workforce,” he said. “We have found a talented and dedicated workforce that understands our mission of service and of serving the military and their families…. It’s one community supporting a private employer with more than 5,800 employees that’s expanding to 10,000. We wouldn’t be able to do that without filling these positions with talented people who could do the job, and that’s what we found in Florida.”
The robust talent pool includes access to recent graduates from area universities. “We certainly make that part of our recruiting effort when we’re looking to fill jobs,” Pearson said. “We have a tremendous university system that produces skilled and dedicated future employees, and we do tap into that resource.” Navy Federal Credit Union has found great partners in the state’s higher education system, he said. One example is a partnership with the University of West Florida. “UWF has bent over backwards trying to help, not only encouraging its students to look at opportunities here, but developing curriculum that fits not only the needs of our company, but the financial services industry as a whole,” Pearson said.
As more people move to the nation’s third-most populated state, opportunities continue to grow, he said. “Across the board, we have certainly found the benefit of being in Florida because of the type of people who call it home — whether it’s the talent they bring to the table or the finances they have to invest or spend. It’s a good fit,” Pearson said.
The credit union’s economic impact is nearly $300 million in annual payroll, which will almost double when it reaches 10,000 employees. This has been accomplished through economic development partnerships at the local, regional and state levels. “We are in a climate where state and local leaders see a need to invest in the business community to help it grow,” Pearson said. “The level of support that we get as a company and as an employer is fantastic. It really takes that team effort, and that’s what we’ve found here in Florida.”
In terms of attracting employees, quality of life is golden, and no personal state income tax is the silver lining. “Everyone is familiar with the beautiful beaches and warm, sunny weather, but when you start looking at the numbers and realize you don’t have to pay a state income tax, that’s a terrific benefit,” Pearson said. “When people move here from other places, the No. 1 thing they tease people about back home is the quality of life. You’ve got better weather. Better traffic. Great amenities in terms of outdoor activities. That’s what sets this state apart.”