Gary Norcross is the CEO of a major financial technology company called FIS. After a nationwide search and being recruited by many metropolitan areas, Gary established FIS Headquarters in Downtown Jacksonville. In this interview, he shares the behind-the-scenes story of building a $200M+ office building in the downtown area and how that benefits real estate investing for Duval County.
Downtown Jacksonville has had a long history with notable financial institutions and traditional banks. Because there is so much potential for growth, long-term real estate investing, and positive cash flow properties, Downtown JAX is a magnet for fintech companies seeking a hip, urban center.
History of Downtown Jacksonville Financial Institutions
Since the 1970s, Jacksonville has attracted traditional banks and insurance companies to build major office buildings in the downtown area. For example, the iconic Wells Fargo Center in Downtown JAX was originally the Independent Life Building when it was constructed. Since then, our urban center has been a significant hub for Bank of America, Wells Fargo, TIAA Bank, to name a few.
Why Is Jacksonville a Destination for Mobile Banking and Fintech Startups?
For generations, Jacksonville has attracted major corporations that contribute to the flywheel of continuous urban development. However, the global pandemic changed the way many people work. Since many workers have been allowed to work from home, Florida has experienced a record-breaking number of people migrating to our state.
An affordable real estate market, a business-friendly city government, and high quality of life are three key factors that make Downtown Jacksonville a destination for financial technology companies. JWB is heavily investing in the development of the downtown area to take advantage of the growth we expect to see in our urban center.
We predict that as the median income rises and Downtown JAX develops into a thriving destination for shops, cafes, restaurants, apartments, sports events, cultural events, and the like, more fintech startups and mobile banking companies will choose Jacksonville as a place to open an office.
How Has the Finance Technology of FIS Evolved?
When FIS was just beginning, fifty years ago, they had a single product for a single function. Today, there are so many products and services that FIS offers. They are a Fortune 200 company with $400B earned annually. FIS is based in 40 countries around the globe.
If you shop online and swipe a credit card, FIS is the largest merchant acquirer in the world. Think about how you bank today, and you will see how fintech companies have evolved. As a consumer, you have bank accounts, lending, sourcing, consumer debt, etc. When you think about trading platforms, derivatives platforms, and the global need to keep commerce moving, FIS is #1 in all capital markets.
Gary Norcross said, “We didn't get here overnight.” According to him, it's been many years of seamless integration with more than 800 products delivered, and they're all based in Jacksonville HQ. FIS moves over $10Trillion as a company in the world!
What Is the Job Recruitment Process like for Large Financial Institutions?
When asked about the recruitment process for a large financial institution like FIS, Gary shared what happened behind the scenes. One of their acquisitions was based in JAX, and they IPOed that company, known as Black Knight, a sister company. This deal exposed FIS to Jacksonville. FIS used to be based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
When large companies merge, they have many alternatives and decisions on where to place their HQ. They need office space, parking for all employees and visitors, affordable housing, a pool of qualified workers, and more. The City of Jacksonville reached out to their company and offered to welcome them here.
Today, three sister companies — FNF, FIS, and Black Knight — are headquartered here, all based on that one transaction! If you look at this combo of financial technology corporations and what it means to Florida, it is easy to see they bring many jobs here.
Did Gary Get Wined-and-dined to Stay in JAX?
No, it wasn't a factor. It's not essential when you start thinking about the bigger picture. JAX, as a city, rallied around FIS's needs, actively engaged in keeping FIS here, and helped craft something that would work. Based on that, FIS chose to build their $200M office building, which is a major long-term investment.
What Is the Future of Office Buildings along the St. Johns River?
Even with the pandemic creating change in how we work remotely, there is still a need for office space. Gary shared that Black Knight, the sister company to FIS, was growing and needed more space. They were leasing the structure, but as they started growing, they started looking at what Blue Cross was doing, taking advantage of their commercial space.
This arrangement between Black Knight and Blue Cross left FIS without a commercial real estate option. FIS looked to acquire a company HQ in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jacksonville didn't have the space FIS was looking for, and that is why FIS considered Ohio. But Gary and his team started working with the city and the state to determine if FIS should go for Cincinnati or Jacksonville.
Because the St. Johns River and the Jacksonville Beaches are close by, the demand for office buildings along the St. Johns River corridor continues to rise.
Will the Amenities at Work Get People to Return to the Office?
Yes, that's the plan. Gary explained that the riverfront property is desirable. People like to work from home or walk to work because they live so close to downtown JAX. We may be headed in a world of having less commercial real estate but more people inside the commercial properties that stand Downtown.
We are excited about this new building, offering amenities and building a world-class center. Access to the riverfront and having exercise options outside of the building, with healthy food and outside dining, are all in alignment with our company values. We can have outside meetings and build a world-class innovation lab.
The FIS building will have neat coffee cafes that allow people to meet and develop ideas in a pleasant setting. Gary explained, “We want them to collaborate and feel like they are in the room, virtual or in-person. We are leaning heavily on 5G and also thinking about pet care at the job. But we are still fleshing out these amenities to put into place as we build the building.”
What Motivates Long-term Investors to Buy in the Downtown Jacksonville Real Estate Market?
Long-term investors include fintech startups, mobile banking institutions, and major corporations that plant roots in Downtown JAX. When these companies evaluate the Jacksonville real estate market, they look at many factors, including:
- Talented people
- Education level
- Downtown environment
- Ease of recruitment
It's not just one thing, but a combo of everything. There are a lot of lovely cities that have this combo.
Making people move is a distraction. But it's a financial decision and a relationship decision, too. FIS is making a significant commitment by investing in a $200M building. The things FIS is doing are a combination of all the things that matter. Their fintech company hires people worldwide. Deciding on moving them to JAX and offering a quality lifestyle are factors.
Fintech Is Big Here in JAX. What Is Our Talent Pool like in JAX?
FIS is a B to B company and relatively unknown. But they are not the only fintech company in JAX. There are several large financial institutions here in JAX, and our city has become a destination for that talent.
JAX was in the top ten for desirable cities across the country and the fastest-growing city in Florida. When people relocate, they want a lovely home with excellent schools and high quality of life. It all works in concert, and FIS has committed to adding 500 new jobs in multiple locations.
We want to attract the right talent for tomorrow. Established companies want to bring the right talent into JAX, which is growing the upward mobility of employee incomes.
How Much Does Gary Think about the Future of the Downtown Jacksonville Urban Core? Does the Financial Technology Industry Play a Role in That?
Absolutely! We have already engaged with the Mayor and have committed $200M to build a corporate building in Downtown JAX. You can't have significant parking problems if you want to give people access to the urban core.
We must have safety, walkability, and all of the elements that attract younger talent. They want access to restaurants, entertainment, and walkable Downtown. That is something we will continue to strive for.
FIS is located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Downtown JAX. Gary has seen Jacksonville evolve and go from limited opportunities to explosive growth in restaurants and apartment buildings. Green spaces are starting to go up, and one of the most excellent YMCA buildings in the country has been built here.
The future includes getting more access to light rail and getting around Downtown quickly. The greatest asset is the Downtown riverfront, plus the beach access. There is no doubt Jacksonville can have one of the best downtowns in the country.
Jacksonville is growing, and it will continue to grow and attract more talent. As we place our bets on JAX, more companies and hotels, and restaurants will come to support the people coming to visit. New hotels are popping up, which is exciting for our future!
Gary and Gregg are both betting that their investments in downtown JAX will continue to improve. Gary is committed to transforming that downtown area and the company's real estate decisions around Downtown. FIS could have gone to another location within 20 miles of Downtown JAX, but collectively, we all win when we make Downtown JAX work.
In the next 10-20 Years, What Could Be Problematic in JAX If Not Addressed?
We need to prioritize education, private schools, public schools, and choices for the families living here. An investment in education is essential. So is safety, low crime rates, and high quality of life.
Do FIS Employees Rent First Before Buying?
Yes, many people will come and rent to find out where they want to live and feel the community vibe. Then, within 12 months, they typically move into ownership. It's also generational-based. Over half our employees are Millennials, and they commute to the beach on the weekends.
It's a combination of renting versus buying. The new FIS building in downtown JAX will bring 500 new jobs, and Black Knight could add new jobs. This activity all helps the flywheel of revitalizing Downtown JAX.
It's wonderful to see that Jacksonville's key leaders see similar growth as we do at JWB, and we all can win together.
How Do You Get Started with JWB?
Join our Facebook Group, Jacksonville Rental Property Investing, our new name, if you enjoyed today's show. You will find an active Facebook community at www.jwbfacebookgroup.com.
If you are thinking about investing with JWB, tune into our Not Your Average Investor show on Tuesdays and our Property Of The Week on Thursdays to feel more comfortable about our approach.
You can also go to www.jwbinventory.com to see what properties are currently available. We encourage you to contact the JWB team for a consultation to determine how our property management team can be of service in providing passive income cash flow.
When you are ready to take the next step with Jacksonville real estate, visit www.chatwithjwb.com. We will walk you through the numbers to show you what your potential Return On Investment will be.
We hope you enjoyed learning how Downtown Jacksonville became the hub for FIS, a titan in the financial technology industry. The excitement around this real estate development benefits the entire real estate market in JAX. If you have questions about real estate investing with JWB, contact us. You'll be glad you did!
To Your Success,