Sherzer & Asssociates Inc., a local South Daytona based insurance agency, is welcoming Pie Guy, a commercial bakery from New England to Port Orange. This type of new manufacturing supplier is what is needed in our area. Great to see businesses relocating on the eastern part of town.
PORT ORANGE — Twenty years ago, the city developed the Eastport Business Park in hopes of creating a magnet for jobs.
Today, the sprawling industrial park, which covers 270 acres, is home to 82 companies that employ at least a couple of hundred people.
But city officials and business leaders agree the business park, which has remained largely stagnant after its first few years, could become a far more powerful economic engine.
They’re hoping a New England company’s pending arrival could be the catalyst they’ve been waiting for.
The top executive of Manchester, New Hampshire-based Pie Guy recently confirmed plans to convert a vacant building at Eastport into a commercial bakery that will be a supplier to grocery store chains.
One of its customers is expected to be Trader Joe’s, a national upscale grocer which opened a regional distribution center this summer in Daytona Beach.
PLANT TO CREATE 40 JOBS
City officials are hoping the $1.66 million renovation of the future Pie Guy plant will help attract more businesses to Eastport.
“I want more companies like that,” said Scott Stiltner, councilman for District 4.
“Look what that company’s done,” Stiltner said about Pie Guy, a growing business that opened a second plant last year in Dallas, Texas. “I think they’re going to be here a long time.”
John Slafkosky, president of Pie Guy, said his company’s Port Orange plant will produce pies and specialty desserts to be sold at grocery store chains.
While Slafkosky has declined to identify those chains but his company earlier this year — when it was seeking economic incentives from the city, county and state and identified only by the codename Project Pie — was described by local economic development officials as a supplier to Trader Joe’s.
The Pie Guy plant is expected to create about 40 jobs with average wage of $32,000 a year.
Now that the economic incentive package has been approved for Pie Guy, the company plans to proceed with renovating the 10,500-square-foot building at 4470 Eastport Park Way, which has been vacant since 2013.
PARK’S PERFORMANCE: SO-SO
Though the city’s Eastport community redevelopment area is home to dozens of businesses, it hasn’t seen the level of growth that city officials and business leaders would like to see.
That comes in sharp contrast to the city’s Dunlawton Avenue business corridor, which has been booming in recent years, attracting several national restaurant and retail chains.
Port Orange Mayor Allen Green attributes the lack of growth at Eastport in recent years to changes in how the majority of goods are now transported.
“It’s an unusual piece of property in an unusual place but that was when the railroad was a governing factor on where you developed,” he said. “But as everything (new homes and new retail/restaurant development in the city) moved west (closer to Interstate 95) and the trucking industry became different, it wasn’t as good.”
Green said he believes that an early proposal to put in rail siding along the East Coast Railway that borders Eastport’s eastern edge wound up getting scrapped because of noise concerns to nearby residents.
He said that those improvements to Eastport might have helped it draw more businesses.
“Has it remained stagnant? Yes. It’s not been a failure, but it hasn’t been a success either,” Green said.
“That’s why Pie Guy is so exciting — because he’s one of the early ones to come in and actually improve a site in the Eastport Business Park,” said Debbie Connors, executive director of the Port Orange-South Daytona Chamber of Commerce.
DE FACTO INCUBATOR?
Connors said she has noticed a lot of businesses come and go in Eastport’s older section over the years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It can be kind of an incubator in terms of small businesses that start there to get low rent,” Connors said, adding that the chamber has been actively trying to reach out to those businesses that make up the northeastern portion of the redevelopment area in the hopes that they can provide each with opportunities to survive — and preferably thrive.
“If they grow and they’re paying taxes here in Port Orange it helps us all,” said Connors from her office, less than a mile from the industrial park.
An initial $2.5 million investment in the 207 acres was used for infrastructure improvements, including construction of Eastport Park Way and extending potable water and sanitary sewer lines. The city has also invested in the creation of the 20-plus-acre nature park, Buschman Park.
In a 2010 study, between 1995 and 2009, industry at Eastport increased by 8.1 percent, but vacant land in the area could still use a jump-start, city officials and business leaders say.
While vacant acreage has dropped from 123-acres in 1995 to about 50 acres of vacant land in the 2010 study, that number has not changed since.
“The fact that there are empty lots in the area shows that we haven’t reached the full potential. The ideal is to have every lot filled with people building things or making things and providing jobs,” said Wayne Clark, the city’s community development director. “We’re still not there yet.”