Fernandina Beach Creates Inviting Environment for Residential, Manufacturing Growth
When Rayonier Advanced Materials (RYAM) opened a plant in Florida’s Nassau County in 1939, the company saw two invaluable and abundant natural resources: Southern yellow pine trees and water. As the supplier of cellulose specialty products, which is essential for the manufacturing of consumer products from pharmaceuticals and food to cosmetics, paints and even disposable diapers, RYAM saw the value of the plentiful resources.
In Fernandina Beach, on the northwest coast of Amelia Island where RYAM set up operations, it found a location that came with added benefits of a desirable, livable location offering a 13-mile stretch of beach just off the coast of northeast Florida. Fernandina Beach has thrived and grown since RYAM launched operations some 80 years ago.
“Before we came to this area, landowners were burning off the trees to convert the natural forests to grazing,” said C. A. McDonald,
General Manager of RYAM’s Fernandina Plant. “They wanted the best use of land to generate money. We were able to convince them to let the forests grow and generate even more revenue selling the trees to the mills.”
Additionally, the presence of the trees helps stabilize the soil and protects the marshes from runoff, helping to boost the health of the area’s environment.
The financial boost that is being enjoyed by landowners is just the start of the economic benefits to Nassau County. The area has grown tremendously, drawing employees who, in turn, contribute to keeping the local economy alive. In fact, from 1969 until 2014, the county’s population increased by 282 percent, which represents an extremely high average annual growth rate of 6.3 percent.
In 2014, RYAM and corrugated packaging company WestRock accounted for 13.3 percent of Nassau County’s total workforce and contributed $1.2 billion to the economy. With more than 4,000 jobs generated by the two companies, both directly and indirectly, they also contribute more than $252 million in earnings to local workers and small businesses, according to a study conducted by the University of Florida.
McDonald said the reasonable cost of living and a gorgeous beachfront setting have added to the appeal of Nassau County.
“As a father and husband raising my family, it’s a real place. It’s people raising real families in a diverse community, and the plants have been a key piece in creating that,” he added.
While Amelia Island has become a tourism and retirement destination, the presence of manufacturing helps balance the economy and keeps it from facing some of the challenges grappled with by resort-focused destinations.
“In many of those communities, there are jobs but the wages are relatively low, and that forces people in those jobs to live inland,” McDonald explained. “The beauty of this community is that people can live and work right here, and people take care of where they live. It benefits everyone.”
In addition to being an affordable community, Fernandina Beach is accessible. That has been crucial to the community’s success, McDonald emphasized.
While it earned fame as the lifeline of beach culture, a small segment of the iconic A1A (SR 200 East/West to I-95) also serves as the lifeblood of local commerce, forming a strategic transportation corridor that sustains the diverse economy of Amelia Island.
“For any manufacturing business, transportation is critical,” he said. “The ability of the roads and highways to keep product flowing is crucial. It is aptly named part of the Strategic Intermodal System because it keeps us connected.”
As expansion continues, and with Florida’s 28 million miles of untapped, rural land, all of these components work together to create an environment that is primed to manage both residential and manufacturing growth, with each complementing the other.