Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Checking How Houston Does It

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Checking How Houston Does It

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein


Tom Van Berkel

Chairman-elect JAX Chamber

A JAX Chamber leadership trip to Houston will give 123 participants an up-close look at how the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area has carried out its economic development strategy.

Tom Van Berkel, chairman-elect for JAX Chamber, picked Houston for the annual leadership trip, which will run Monday through Wednesday.

Van Berkel is chairman, president, and CEO of Main Street America Group. The insurance company moved its headquarters to Jacksonville in the 2002 and has expanded to 11 new states in the past three years, bringing its total market to 27 states.

Van Berkel talked with the Times-Union about the Houston trip, the need for Northeast Florida to attract more corporate headquarters, and the growth prospects for Main Street America Group.

Why Houston?

I wanted to find a city that was committed to and had success with downtown development, which is a priority for Jacksonville. I wanted a city that has a vibrant and successful port. I wanted a city that has some kind of body of water because downtown Jacksonville has one of the most beautiful rivers running through it, and also a city has same kind of logistical issues that we have - a city that's large in size and has done something with light rail. The fifth piece was a city that has some of the same types of public education challenges that we face. Houston met all that criteria. It would be a city that's a little aspirational for us.

In what sense would it be aspirational?

We'll never get that big. But what it can do is say, "Look, here's a city that is large and has done well with many of the same challenges that we have." It's not just size. It's what they've been able to accomplish.

Main Street America Group moved its headquarters to Jacksonville in 2002. Are there obstacles to bringing more corporate headquarters here?

I met with a CEO of a very small company that is fast-growing and is moving their headquarters to Jacksonville and I asked him why and he said, "You know, I just love it here. It's a great place to live. …

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