After lengthy pandemic-induced delays, a sprawling Coca-Cola Beverages Florida facility is reaching its completion in St. Petersburg.
The $5 million, 22,058 square-foot development will increase connectivity from the Black and family-owned independent bottler’s headquarters in Tampa and create local jobs. Equally important for the company – the largest minority-owned business in Florida – is a return to the St. Pete community.
Ron Brock, general manager for Coke Florida’s St. Petersburg and Sarasota territory, explained how the distribution center’s value would extend far beyond operational efficiency when it opens to employees in September.
“The reality of it is, now we’re going to have a presence,” said Brock. “We have a place that we can reach out – if somebody in the community wants to be able to have meetings, we’ll have meeting space there.
“It’s really about the presence and being able to be back in a marketplace where people can see us versus just trucks on the road.”
When local teenagers begin to explore career opportunities, Brock said Coke Florida could show them the distribution, warehousing, mechanical and sales sides of the business due to the myriad of functions that will take place on the site.
The local bottler will need 30-35 new commercially licensed drivers, which Brock called skilled and high-paying positions. The facility will also create 20-25 ancillary jobs and provide a home for a large, established sales team. He noted that everyone currently works independently from each other.
“This is going to give us a place to be able to have sales meetings, bring customers in and such,” said Brock. “We’re really excited, and if we continue to grow the business, we’ll create more opportunities and more job opportunities in St. Pete – Pinellas County in particular.”
Coke Florida is a beverage behemoth.
The family-owned company is the third-largest privately held bottle of Coca-Cola products in the nation. As a certified Minority Business Enterprise, Coke Florida’s exclusive territory serves over 20 million consumers across 47 counties, manufacturing, selling and distributing over 600 products in major metro areas such as Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay.
St. Pete was home to a Coke Florida facility several years ago. Brock said establishing a new physical presence across the bay from its headquarters was a commitment that Troy Taylor made immediately after purchasing the company in 2015.
“Within seven years, he was able to bring that to fruition,” said Brock. “And the reality is, if it wasn’t for Covid, it would have been to fruition in five years. Which is pretty phenomenal when you think about somebody buying a company and then being able to kind of understand the business and expanding the business out what our footprint is in Florida today.
“That’s a lot of undertaking, so we’re extremely excited about it.”
Coke Florida paid $2.8 million for the 10-acre property in March 2019, strategically located near I-275 at 9500 16th Street N. Brock said the company expected its completion in 2020, but the pandemic caused an extended hiatus. General contractor The Sinclair Group is overseeing its construction.
The company finally acquired the steel necessary to begin building in March of this year, said Brock, and despite supply chain issues, the expansive facility is about 75% complete. Coke Florida expects the building to start housing employees in September and be fully operational by November or December.
Despite Coke Florida’s size, reach and plans for continuing expansion, Brock stressed the importance of making a difference in the communities the company serves. He said the new facility is not only a tremendous opportunity to engage the area from an employment standpoint, but it will also create new pathways to support residents.
Brock said that Coke Florida enjoys a relationship with the Boys and Girls Club, providing backpacks and laptops to the Largo affiliate. The company also offers rain barrels to homes and businesses to promote sustainability in an area surrounded by water.
Economic empowerment is one of the company’s cultural pillars, and Coke Florida recently sponsored a Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties home in Lealman. Brock became close with the new homeowner, Agnes Jackson, through the process, and he said the new house is an example of generational wealth that Jackson could pass down to her family.
“That’s something that’s ingrained in us,” said Brock.
“That’s something that we’re charged with as individual leaders within the organization – to find where we want to go out, who we want to partner with and if they fit within the pillars of this organization.”