A roll of paper the size of a monster truck tire is spinning furiously on a spool. The sheets are printed, chopped, cut and folded under fluorescent lights on chutes, trays and rollers in a span of about 25 feet. That’s just one machine in the three-building complex that houses Palm Coast Data.
Two million pieces of mail a year are processed by this company, which since 1984 has been located on Commerce Boulevard, a short, quiet street that has little traffic other than its 800-plus employees, between U.S. 1 and Pine Lakes Parkway.
Just as the complex is hidden behind majestic trees, Palm Coast Data has long been relatively invisible to the public, despite being one of Flagler County’s two largest employers.
But recently, the company has started to reach out to the community more and more, ever since Mike Duloc was appointed president and CEO in the summer of 2011. Soon thereafter, he made a point of reaching out to the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates. He appointed representatives to serve on community boards. He bought a house here.
Palm Coast Data now sponsors a senior softball team. It awards scholarships to high schools, donates to the S.T.U.F.F. Bus and facilitated the communication in November between Indian Trails Middle School students, the Palm Coast Radio Club, and the International Space Station.
Duloc met with The Observer and the News-Journal in separate interviews Feb. 7 as an extension of the desire to “be better corporate citizens in the community,” he said.
Four years ago, the community put forth its own best effort to make sure Palm Coast Data remained a fixture on Commerce Boulevard.
The deal of the decade
The city of Palm Coast was presented with a real pickle in 2008. Palm Coast Data as poised to move out of the area and bring its 1,000 jobs with it.
But, in a total team economic development effort (Tom Cooley and Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon were singled out as the key players in a 2008 article by Toby Tobin on GoToby.com), the company was persuaded to stay in town. A key part of the deal was the city’s willingness to vacate the City Hall on Commerce Boulevard and sell it to Palm Coast Data for $3 million, giving the company room to expand by a projected 700 jobs. Meanwhile, the city moved into its current offices at City Marketplace.
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts is the one active member of City Council remaining from that time, and he said the officials made the best of a tough situation.
Today, the job picture isn’t as rosy, but it’s not as bleak as it could have been, either. The company didn’t add 700 jobs; in fact has contracted by about 200 since that 2008 deal. Still, considering the city was hit the hardest of any other in the state by the collapse of the housing market, sending unemployment above 17% for a time, Netts is still confident it was the right decision.
“Do I wish that Palm Coast Data had been more successful? Absolutely, yes,” he said. “Would we have been better off to lose those jobs? I don’t think that would have made much sense.”
Landon echoed Netts’ assessment. “Our No. 1 goal was to keep the jobs in Palm Coast,” Landon said. The $3 million sale of City Hall has proven to be a good deal for the taxpayers, he said, because it likely couldn’t be sold for that much today. Any other incentives were based on performance measures, which were not met; therefore, the city lost very little if anything in the transaction. More importantly, it avoided an economic disaster.
“This is a real positive story,” Landon added. “A lot of communities would have lost Palm Coast Data.”
From the corner office
Duloc is a trim 56-year-old executive who resembles Michael Douglas. He dresses smartly and has stylish gray hair. He exudes success and is determined to lead Palm Coast Data through a transition period.
“Were in an industry that’s significantly challenged,” Duloc said. “The print world is seeing declines each year. … It’s our job to flex accordingly and find other businesses or other acquisitions that supplement or support our business, and we try to complement the skills sets that we have.”
Therefore, the publicly traded AMREP Corp., of which Palm Coast Data is a subsidiary, is diversifying. Duloc oversees five other businesses around the United States, including the most recent deal, Full Circle Media, in Denver, which was completed Dec. 31, 2012. Full Circle does direct mail, product fulfillment and has a call center, which can complement Palm Coast Data’s call center.
But even as more publications go digital, Duloc said he’s passionate about his business and “we have to protect our print side.” One of his points of emphasis is client retention.
The fact is, Palm Coast Data does something for which there is still a good amount of demand. It does not sell or store magazines, but instead it manages and tracks and fulfills subscriptions; about three in four magazines is purchased through subscription in the United States, he said.
“You know those cards that fall out of magazines asking you to subscribe?” he said. “When you send it in, it comes to us, or to Des Moines or Tampa.” Those are the locations of the three biggest companies that connect magazine publishers with their customers, keep addresses up to date and renew subscriptions.
Duloc said Palm Coast Data likely fits in between the other two and is therefore the second-largest company of its kind in the world.
Duloc has been in the industry since the 1980s. His experience has taught him to be open and share with the employees as much as possible of what’s happening in the business. He isn’t above walking through the assembly lines to say hello to the workers.
Any impression of secrecy or being closed off is not true, he said, though he acknowledged that community involvement wasn’t a priority between 2006 and 2010, when the company was going through a difficult consolidation.
He wasn’t the CEO of Palm Coast Data when the 2008 deal was struck with the city. Today, his work often keeps him in New York City, and his primary residence is Philadelphia. But, he said, he has been extending his stays in Palm Coast more and more, enjoying the weather here and following another of his business rules: Have fun.
“Yesterday, we had an awards luncheon for (10 to 25 years of service) at the Hilton Garden Inn,” he said. “We did little interesting factoids about what was happening 10-25 years ago: the songs, price of gas, the hottest Christmas toys, celebrity miscues.”
Duloc was animated, grinning as he sat at a small round table in his office. It was all part of the new attitude of Palm Coast Data. “Be able to laugh at yourself,“ he said. “Just be real with the folks that you work with.”