Grow Jacksonville by Bringing in Foreign Manufacturers - Is This Solid Thinking?


Recently the Jacksonville Business Journal has been covering articles celebrating the emergence of a new company focused on moving in to a local mall that has gone 'belly up' in a old and struggling area of Jacksonville. It sounds great, wonderful, and exciting with great potential for growth and jobs. But, I ask, growth  and jobs for whom?
Here are the JBJ's articles:
So, being a progressive business owner  not being opposed to growth of my company as well as growth of the community in which we live and work everyday, I reached out to IDO (International Decor Outlet) to find out more about how to become a retailer in this exciting endeavor they have for the Regency Square Mall. Now, keep in mind that their website states the following "International Décor Outlet (IDO) is the first direct-to-consumer outlet for manufacturers and retailers of interior decor and home improvement materials in the United States." Their qualifications for applicants are as follows:
  1. Registered businesses with independent legal person qualification
  2. Businesses with intentions to open and expand stores in the US, as well as with primary capital for leasing storefront, inventory and operation in the US.
  3. Businesses with high-quality products, development capability and factories experienced in foreign order processing will be preferred.
Hmmm....yes, I do believe Tub King fits these criteria! Exciting! I am surprised to find this international company launching in this new endeavor has offices around the corner from where I live. Ok, there's nothing wrong with a major company having corporate headquarters here in Jacksonville. I was just surprised as I've been in my industry for over 20 years, the last 6 of those in Jacksonville and have never heard of the company before. I next pick up the phone and call their office to get more information of how I can get involved only to be transferred to someone who knew NOTHING and only to be provided with an email of media@idooutlet.com
Six hours later I receive the following response from Rhett Farber, Chief Operating Officer, "We allow manufacturers to sell directly to consumer, in order to get better product at same or less price to consumer. Thus, we are just focusing on manufacturers at this time, whether they be domestic or overseas. " 
He did not state he would reach out to Tub King if they do not find a manufacturer in our space (luxury and walk-in tubs) or provide any other "hey, maybe down the road" scenarios. We replied, "Interesting, your website indicates the following: "International Décor Outlet (IDO) is the first direct-to-consumer outlet for manufacturers and retailers of interior decor and home improvement materials in the United States." We are not a manufacturer - we are a retailer. Is your Georgia location open for business?" That was sent 1 1/2 days ago with no response. (Side note: Rhett's Facebook profile shows that he just started working for IDO in January of this year as Director of Strategic Relations. Yeah, his response to Tub King was very strategic - if his goal was to ostracize me.)
Before I move on, understand Tub King purchases material, components, and products from all over the world, this includes places such as the U.S. midwest, China, Germany, and Italy. We, therefore, have wonderful relations with foreign manufacturers and freight carriers.
Moving on, naturally I start digging. Here are some interesting facts posted on their website and my questions regarding them:
"Services provided include but not limited to: assistance in the visa application process, business registration, sales guidance, employee recruitment in the US, access to legal advice and tax and accounting advice, freight and customs assistance, foreign product information collection, product and advertising strategies and design, brand packaging promotion, management consulting, construction consulting and other comprehensive services and guidance." 
  • Will there be a stipulation requiring the oversees manufacturers to hire a certain percentage of U.S. workers from the Jacksonville community or will the manufacturer have the option of using IDO's services to bring over cheap workforce from their own country?
  • Can they provide historical costs charts proving out savings for the consumer once all of IDO's business services are tacked on to all of the manufacturers other expenses or are they presenting estimated costs based on existing U.S. Retail Outlet scenarios?
"IDO has established a Business Support Consulting Center, providing long-term all-round counseling and assistance for foreign enterprisesoperating, setting up branch offices and stores, seize economic recovery opportunities, access international markets and promote global brand awareness and recognition in the US."
  • Ah, ok, I get it now. Their focus is primarily (if not solely) bringing foreign entities in and growing THEM, with the promise of growing Jacksonville along the way. There is nothing in this statement which refers to helping U.S. manufacturers or retailers "seize economic recovery opportunities, access international markets and promote global brand awareness". 
Going back to my question in email to Rhett Farber, COO, about the success of their location in Darien, GA, I refer to this article: Struggling Darien Outlet Center looking for investment from China
I've received no response and am hard pressed to find anything of relevant value which refers to a successful launch of an international outlet in Darien, despite the quote in the article, "An IDO release said the company expects to have completely filled the stores in the Darien center by next month." (the date of that quote was July 2015) On IDO's website they have a number of "locations" listed on their map as if to imply they have outlets or corporate offices in those cities, yet I'm having difficulty identify footprints beyond Jacksonville and supposedly Darien.
Oh wait, there was an update stating "INTERNATIONAL DÉCOR OUTLET (IDO), its investors, and the executive team would like to announce that they will be occupying the Darien Mall on Interstate 95 and expect to celebrate its Grand Opening in early 2016." According to their website they have lots of Chinese manufacturers lined up and handing them over money for their storefronts. Which begs to question if IDO even has the capital to open these outlet locations without first needing the Chinese money.
The U.S. didn't learn enough from shipping a good portion of our customer support, technical support, and manufacturing jobs overseas? Our unemployment rates and number of chronically unemployed are astounding. Now we are going to celebrate and encourage giving a direct route for foreign manufacturers to come in and undercut our U.S. based manufacturers and retailers? One of the previous articles quotes IDO as bringing 100-200 jobs to the outlet. Will they ensure they, IDO, will hire employees who are U.S. citizens and from the community as well? 
Next question, who's behind IDO? Looks like the owner of IDO's "partner" JJ Atlantic Investment Group, Brian Smith. I'm not seeing reference to many other IDO or JJ Atlantic Investment Group officers being mentioned or promoted in their news feeds. 
So, there it is, my soap box response to an initiative that promises growth to the Jacksonville community but may, in fact, be yet another nail in the coffin of mom and pop businesses and U.S. based manufacturers.
(original post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/support-growth-jacksonville-joe-king?trk=pulse_spock-articles)