Champion Brands CEO Earl Benton ‘Did it All on His Own’
Source: Jacksonville Daily Record | By: Karen Brune Mathis
City and state officials did nothing for Earl Benton, CEO of Champion Brands Inc., when he decided to build a new headquarters.
They said so Tuesday in public remarks to about 90 people at the project site.
“We didn’t do anything,” said District 4 state Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican representing Nassau County and part of Duval County.
“It’s pure capitalism.”
City Council District 6 representative Matt Schellenberg said he lives across the street from the project.
“It’s great that not only did the state not do anything for him, but the City Council didn’t do anything for Earl Benton,” he said.
“He did it all on his own.”
At-Large council member Tommy Hazouri called the project “another diamond in Jacksonville’s crown and especially the Mandarin area” that pays $100,000 a year in property taxes and supports city activities.
The Duval County Tax Collector shows that Champion Brands paid almost $97,400 in property taxes for 2017 on its warehouse site, including more than $61,200 for the city and almost $34,700 for the public schools.
Benton presided over the groundbreaking for his estimated $7 million-plus headquarters project in South Jacksonville.
Sauer Inc. is the contractor and HHC Horton, Harley & Carter Inc. is the architect. The project will be built on 6 acres.
Benton bought Champion Brands in 1985, expanding the company from more than 80 employees to 300. The beverage distribution company ran out of space at its 115,307-square-foot office-warehouse.
Having bought vacant land at 5520 Florida Mining Blvd. S. in 2004, Benton decided to build a 36,000-square-foot headquarters building there that he expects to occupy by this time next year.
After that, he intends to vacate the combined 10,500 square feet of office space used now among two buildings.
He will demolish the office space at the main center, across the street at 5571 Florida Mining Blvd. S., and add about 40,000 square feet to the warehouse.
Benton said after the groundbreaking that he expects to invest at least $1 million for furniture, equipment and other needs in addition to the $6.2 million construction cost of the new headquarters.
“It’s largely for our employees. We have been in a cramped operating environment and doing very well at it, but it’s put us at a disadvantage,” he said.
The existing facility doesn’t allow for large meetings. The new one will have space for 250 attendees. The space also will be available for use by selected community groups.
The facility also will provide indoor and outdoor taprooms
“We will have a taproom inside our big meeting room and a large garage-type door that opens up to the decks outside to where we can entertain and we can do barbecues,” Benton said.
That’s a strategic move.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue today. With millennials working for you, it’s not just about paychecks,” he said of the labor force in their 20s and 30s.
The new facility will be good for the psyche of his employees, he said, explaining there will be a gym for working out and a cafeteria area that sells nutritious food options. Benton also plans a solar rooftop as well as LED lighting throughout the structure.
“They’re going to take a lot more pride in where they work,” he said.
His 300-person workforce also might expand.
“Right now, we’re where we need to be,” he said, but that could change as Champion Brands adds suppliers.
“It doesn’t mean we just sell beer. It doesn’t mean we just sell Red Bull or water. I’m looking at other lines,” he said, such as craft distillers.
“As we determine there’s a need in the market for distribution and marketing, we’re going to go for it,” he said.
Champion Brands represents 62 domestic and foreign breweries and several local craft breweries. It also represents Red Bull, water and other nonalcoholic drinks.
At the start of Benton’s remarks, he joked with the crowd that Champion Brands is an essential industry in the city.
Holding a can of the Red Bull energy drink, Benton said his company wakes up people and keeps them alert.
Holding a bottle of water, he said Champion provides essential hydration.
And lifting a beer, he explained that “We bring you ‘Miller Time’ at the end of the day.”