A year after its creation, the Rail Yard District Business Council increased its membership to 62 businesses and plans to continue neighborhood improvements in the coming year.
The council’s mission is to advance economic development of the 4½-square-mile historic residential and commercial area northwest of Downtown bounded by interstates 95 and 10, Kings Road and Huron Street.
Council membership is open to businesses and residents in the district, as well as those in the greater Jacksonville area.
In its inaugural year, the council held quarterly meetings, hosted city leaders, received grants from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. for signage, sponsored a candidate forum and a job fair, added murals and partnered with other urban neighborhoods.
Goals for 2019-20 include advancing advocacy efforts for infrastructure improvements, developing its social media and web presence, recruiting businesses to the area and strengthening the district’s branding, said Rail Yard Council President Jeff Edwards.
“We have exceeded all expectations for our first year and see significant continuing growth in members and accomplishments going forward based on member involvement and community enthusiasm for our mission,” Edwards said.
He said there are more than 350 businesses in the district with about 6,000 employees. Companies range from sole proprietorships to large corporations, like CSX.
Edwards is the chief financial officer for Beaver Street Fisheries, which also operates the Jacksonville Farmers Market.
A study of the area confirmed Edwards’ expectation that it has a high level of economic activity, despite a lack of attention.
“(The consultants) said they had been all over the U.S. and had not seen an area like this with that much business already in it from the get-go,” he said.
Since joining, council members have been able to network and learn about their neighboring companies, and some have started to do business with each other.
“We’ve had members who are literally across the street or around the corner from each other and never knew their neighbors,” Edwards said. “They didn’t know the other had something the other business could use.”