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North Florida Economic Development Partnership

Officials launch plan to Elevate Putnam


Local business and community leaders unveiled an ambitious plan Thursday to take Putnam County’s economic development and talent retention efforts to the next level. 

Community stakeholders gathered at the Roy G. Campbell Civic Center at Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka to hear about Elevate Putnam, the five-year, multi-million-dollar initiative its leaders say will increase local residents’ quality of life. 

With a feasibility study and other groundwork initiated by the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and Putnam County Economic Development Council, Elevate was started to attract a wide range of businesses while supporting existing businesses, boost wages, increase consumer expenditure in the county and keep Putnam residents from having to travel elsewhere for opportunities. 

Mark Litten, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, said the council conducted its feasibility study in the fall of 2023 and originally settled on a fundraising goal of $2 million. However, he said, council members soon realized they should shoot for more startup funding. 

“As we progressed forward – the beginning of this year – we realized that to fully support our vision, we needed to aim higher,” Litten said. “And we had early success in the capital campaign, and we increased the goal to $3 million.”

The goals for Elevate Putnam include creating 750 near primary jobs and more than 220 indirect support jobs, securing $500 million in new capital investment, generating more than $65 million in new annual earnings and adding $36 million in new local annual consumer expenditures.

The group’s ambitious fundraising goals proved to be attainable, as 10 local leaders – each holding a piece of paper displaying either a digit, comma or dollar sign – stood in front of the room to show $3,033,750 had been raised. 

Businessman and Putnam native Benjie Bates, one of Elevate Putnam’s co-chairs, said the county is on the precipice of greatness, but the campaign needs the community’s support to succeed. 

A graduate of Palatka High School, Bates said Elevate is meant to improve retail, tourism, workforce development, education, agriculture and other sectors in the area. The campaign’s success could be the catalyst that brings home many Putnam residents who left the county because of a lack of opportunities. 

“The excitement and energy that I feel for this event stems from a profound belief that our community is on the verge of greatness,” Bates said. “We’re about to take a giant step forward, and with that comes unparalleled opportunity.

“We don’t want future generations to feel that they need to leave for better opportunities. Instead, I want to send a beacon of hope and opportunity signaling far and wide that this community is a place where dreams can be realized.”

Charlie Douglas – who, like Bates, is a Palatka High alumnus and local business leader – shares the desire to keep Putnam’s talented and knowledgeable residents in the county. 

Many students will leave for college, he said, but he wants to see them return once they’ve finished school. There are also career technical and entrepreneurial options in Putnam County, he said, and one of the goals for Elevate is to increase the number and quality of those options. 

“For me, it’s about keeping our best and brightest here in Palatka,” he said. “If we are going to succeed as a community, I believe that we must bring more industry, more jobs, to Putnam County.

“We have to swing for the fences. We’re going to have strike-outs, but when we connect, it’s going to be something big. It’s going to be bold. It’s going to be impactful for our generation and many generations to come.”

With all of the development happening in surrounding counties, Putnam should not miss out, said Kelley Smith, a former county commissioner and state legislator. Smith, who was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s event, said St. Johns County is developing faster than its infrastructure can handle, and Clay County is undergoing its own projects. 

“It’s our job … to get out there and make sure that we do things like try to keep that small-town atmosphere but yet encourage the growth,” he said. “(Elevate) is going to involve a lot of people here, and it’s going to evolve us into a community that we can all be proud of. … The potential is certainly here.”

After it was announced more than $3 million had been raised for Elevate, Bates announced a new stretch goal of $3.5 million. He and Douglas acknowledged the numerous businesses and individuals who had already invested in Elevate Putnam and stressed the importance of additional community buy-in. 

Douglas said Thursday there were 60 more days left in Elevate’s fundraising efforts. He wants to recruit more donors to invest in Elevate, which he said is an investment in Putnam County.

“Together, it’s worth it, not just as a charitable contribution,” Douglas said. “This is truly a business investment, that the jobs that will come to Putnam County, the industry that will locate here, will directly impact all of the businesses represented here as part of the Chamber. Together, we’re going to see tremendous success. Thank you all for supporting Putnam County.”

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