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McClatchy-Tribune  07/17/2014 5:06 PM ET
Maxwell House asking for tax incentives to add equipment, jobs in downtown Jacksonville coffee plant [The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville :: ]

July 17--One of Jacksonville's most iconic companies is asking for tax money to help it expand.

The Maxwell House coffee plant on Bay Street downtown may benefit from a $16 million capital investment to add additional coffee production and packaging lines. While the overhaul would add machinery to the plant, it would create only about 10 new jobs on top of the 227 employees already at the plant.

Those 10 additional workers would be production-line employees making an average salary of $57,400 annually, according to the city's background report.

Kraft Foods Group Inc., which owns Maxwell House, is seeking $425,000 in a "recapture enhanced value" grant -- 50 percent of the increase in property taxes paid by Maxwell House to the city over the next seven years, according to an ordinance summary being considered by the city.

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee gave preliminary approval to the measure this week and the full council will vote on the issue Tuesday.

Jacksonville Economic Development Director Ted Carter said the company has a historic presence in the city and deserves the economic help for the overhaul.

"For the city, it's another investment downtown. It's a company that's been here since 1899," Carter said.

Beyond the immediate employees working for Maxwell House, the plant also hires multiple subcontractors to help distribute and transport the 200 million pounds of coffee produced at the site each year, Carter said.

While the city considers the tax break for Maxwell House, Kraft Foods officials say they haven't yet committed to the overhaul of the Jacksonville facility. Carter said the local tax incentives in Jacksonville would be a point of consideration by the company that likes to induce "competitive" factors at its different sites.

Kraft Foods spokeswoman Joyce Hodel said the company is considering the expansion and overhaul at two other facilities owned by the company, but Jacksonville is a priority.

"Jacksonville is our largest coffee plant and we've continued to put investment in Jacksonville through the years," Hodel said, adding that in 2012 the company added equipment to roast and process "super premium" Gevalia coffee in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville tax incentives have been used to cajole Maxwell House before. In 1990, the company considered moving the plant. But heavy lobbying by city leaders and tax breaks convinced Maxwell House to stay, prompting a "Thanks Max" T-shirt campaign.

Hodel said the new project would involve upgrades for roasting and processing coffee for Gevalia and Maxwell House brands of coffee. The project would include overhauls for packaging the goods, which include modifiying the coffee-bag designs.

While Carter recommended council approval of the economic development agreement, he said he wants Maxwell House to be more engaged in the community, either by offering plant tours or offering more outreach beyond charitable contributions.

Hodel said she was unaware of Carter's concerns about community engagement.

"The plant certainly does support a lot of nonprofits and charitable organizations in the area and they have for a long time for many, many years," Hodel said.

If Kraft Foods settles on the new project for Jacksonville, Hodel said the Maxwell House production upgrades would proceed shortly after the City Council vote and would be completed this year. Packaging changes would be completed in 2015.

Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098

 

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