Design Concepts enters second economic development incentive agreement

An employee works on a "plug", the object from which a mold is constructed, at Marine Concepts/Design Concepts. The company provides engineering and design services for composite tooling and manufacturing. The company, acquired in February by Leisure Product Holdings LLC, has worked with Manatee County Economic Development since expanding in Sarasota about two years ago to find employees and obtain state incentives.
An employee works on a "plug", the object from which a mold is constructed, at Marine Concepts/Design Concepts. The company provides engineering and design services for composite tooling and manufacturing. The company, acquired in February by Leisure Product Holdings LLC, has worked with Manatee County Economic Development since expanding in Sarasota about two years ago to find employees and obtain state incentives.

Spectacular rides at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios and nose cones for NASA rockets may have started in Manatee County thanks to JRL Ventures LLC doing business as Design Concepts and Marine Concepts.

It is one of 67 companies that has contracted with Manatee County for economic development incentives since 2009.

The company has previously received money from Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, and last week, the Manatee County Commission approved a $305,000 Manatee County economic development incentive grant to encourage creation of 305 jobs over the next five years. The incentive is performance-based, meaning the company will have to provide employee rosters to Manatee County at the end of each year before receiving the money. Manatee County incentive dollars are typically paid in annual installments.

The new incentive package will also help bring in a larger, $1.3 million mill, which will enable Design Concepts to tackle larger products, JRL Ventures LLC President Matt Chambers said.

Job creation hasn’t been a struggle for Design Concepts, according to Chambers. Right now, the company has 179 employees altogether.

“When we very first opened a little more than two-and-a-half years ago, we said we would hire 45 (employees) in the first year and I think we hired 125.” Positions and job descriptions at the Sarasota facility run the gamut, Chambers said, including designers, engineers, project managers, human resources personnel, purchasing, and all different levels of production.

In February, JRL Ventures Inc. was acquired by Leisure Product Holdings LLC, which Chambers described as a company that’s “putting together a group of like industries primarily that will serve recreational marine industries.” LPH also owns Marine Electrical Products, Florida Marine Tanks and Erwin Cole Enterprises.

JRL Ventures LLC manufactures molds, plugs, patterns, glassmasters, computer numerical control parts and molds and custom fabricated components, according to The plugs and molds are used to make boat parts, amusement park ride components and other custom parts for projects like flight simulators or NASA rockets. About 80 percent of JRL Ventures’ work is for the recreational marine industry, hence the Marine Concepts part of the DBA name, and the other 20 percent is for an assortment of industries served by Design Concepts.

“We work with the recreational marine industry or other industries that need molds to build boats or like you need cake pans to build cakes,” Chambers said. “We have the technology in both computers and routers to be able to cut a plug, turn it into a finished plug and make a mold of it and send the mold to companies so they can make their product.”

“Probably 99 percent of the non-marine industry stuff we do is done here,” Chambers said, referring to the roughly 344,000 square-foot Sarasota facility. “We primarily do new product development, but we also do some short production runs or revamp existing products.” Because of confidentiality contracts, Chambers was unable to disclose current projects underway. Past clients include Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Feld Entertainment, Flight Safety International, NASA, the U.S. federal government and Ford Motor Company.

Incentives opened door for expansion

Without Manatee County’s help, the Sarasota expansion by the Cape Coral-based facility “would have been extremely difficult,” Chambers said.

“Because the return on investment and time in which the plant was starting to produce money would have been much longer,” he said. “We wouldn't have been able to do fast-track permits and we wouldn't have had the help in finding employees.” The county helped coordinate the incentive package with the state of Florida and provided workforce assistance as well as rapid-response permitting, according to Chambers.

Manatee County provided a $12,750 match for the state incentive package, according to county economic development program manager Karen Stewart. The package included a qualified target industries tax refund with a Brownfield bonus and was administered by Enterprise Florida.

The qualified target industries tax refund portion of the incentive package is available to companies that create jobs of a specified wage in certain high value-added industries specified by Enterprise Florida. The package requires a 20 percent local match from Manatee County. Enterprise Florida, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity’s online incentive portal, has paid JRL Ventures $100,750 of the maximum $440,000 award available for creating 149 jobs in 2013 and 2014. The company’s average annual wage in 2014, according to the portal, was $36,298.26.

Contaminated land required cleanup

The Brownfield Redevelopment Act aims to reduce or eliminate environmental health hazards on existing abandoned commercial or industrial sites and encourage companies like JRL Ventures to voluntarily clean them up. Wellcraft boat manufacturers previously occupied the building, and Chambers said the environmental issues at the property “weren’t getting the attention they needed.”

The past occupants suffered an acetone spill, Chambers said, and the groundwater contamination leftover was what qualified the property for Brownfield classification. Over the past four years, Chambers estimates his company has invested between $100,000 and $200,000 annually for the cleanup effort. The cost includes “power and water bills, microorganisms we have to feed into it, the maintenance of the equipment, a person dedicated to operating the equipment, and the testing is very expensive.”

After four laboratory tests on the groundwater, Chambers is confident the company will be able to stop running the remediation equipment.

“We just received the final test results this week that continued to show the acetone level has dropped and it's under natural remediation,” Chambers told the Herald on Thursday. “The natural bacterias in the earth are cleaning it and continue to.”

After receiving approval to stop the remediation equipment, Chambers said he and other company executives will look at removing the company from the Brownfield classification. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the agency that oversees Brownfield cleanup efforts, said in an email JRL Ventures LLC was responsible for pumping out and treating contaminated groundwater and then releasing it back into the sanitary sewer system.

“The state receives quarterly groundwater monitoring reports from the site,” Shannon Herbon, southwest district spokeswoman for the DEP said in an email. “The designation is given to them by the county or the city so it would be up to them to remove the classification.” The company is due to submit fourth quarter monitoring results in the next few weeks, and after the results are submitted DEP will evaluate the site for a completion order of the remediation efforts.

Manatee County also connected Design Concepts with the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., who then connected the company with resources at CareerSource Suncoast.

“There are numerous training grants available for companies to pursue,” Bradenton Area EDC President and CEO Sharon Hillstrom said in an email. “The EDC helps companies navigate through those training grants to determine which training grants would be the most advantageous for their particular need.” Training dollars provided to Design Concepts were provided by CareerSource Suncoast and CareerEdge, Hillstrom said.

Chambers’ positive experience with Manatee County led to their recent decision to apply for the incentive money offered by Manatee County.

“The state program was more lucrative, but we didn’t want to not work with the county,” he said.