Editor’s note: This story and photos were captured before the pandemic. Duke Energy employees are following stringent measures – including wearing masks and social distancing – to work safely while they perform essential work to keep the lights on. You can learn more about how we’re working safely during the pandemic here.
Danielle Ruiz is helping shape Florida’s future.
As a senior economic development manager for Duke Energy Florida, Ruiz works with local governments and economic development organizations to attract businesses to communities that Duke Energy serves. It benefits the company with new customers but also supports the communities’ planned growth in one of the fastest growing states in the country.
Since 2010, the Duke Energy economic development team has helped bring $40 billion in capital investments and 125,000 jobs to its six states.
Ruiz came to Duke Energy after working in the medical device industry, state workforce development and county economic development. She didn’t foresee a career at a utility, but she said she’s been pleasantly surprised with the opportunities she’s had to build relationships, bring new ideas and jobs to Florida, where she’s lived for 20 years.
She recently took over Duke Energy's Instagram (@duke_energy) to show us what it's like to work in economic development.
Duke Energy has customers in more than half of Florida’s counties, and Ruiz is responsible for economic development in the Tampa Bay market and north along the west coast to the panhandle. She’s based in New Port Richey, north of St. Petersburg, but spends most of her time on the road in her electric plug-in hybrid meeting with community partners, real estate brokers, developers and businesses who are considering moving to the area.
Companies typically evaluate several locations in a state or a region based on factors including available workforce, tax incentives, transportation and overall cost, which makes the site search process competitive for cities and counties looking to attract businesses. Because electrical capacity and cost are often significant factors in a business’ decision, Ruiz, and the rest of the economic development team, showcases Duke Energy’s rates, programs and service reliability to compete for new projects.
Once Ruiz meets with a company and has a better idea of their requirements, she works with the internal distribution and transmission planners on available electric capacity at the sites to propose designs for electric delivery. From underground lines to renewable energy, the team finds solutions for each company’s unique resiliency requirements, timeline, budget and sustainability needs.
Much like real estate agents, the economic development team is familiar with hundreds of properties and help make recommendations to businesses based on what electrical infrastructure already exists.
“We give them a boots-on-the-ground perspective of what we have available and what they can expect in our communities,” she said.
Duke Energy started a Site Readiness Program in 2005 to help assess, improve and increase awareness of vacant properties. The team takes inventory of amenities and opportunities for improvement like working with municipal governments to extend water or wastewater lines to make the property more attractive for development.
“It provides a roadmap for the counties and cities as well as businesses considering the site,” she said, “and lays out a plan to support infrastructure investment to speed the timeline for a building to come out of the ground and be operational.”
At the BKV Tech Center, a site readiness project in Hernando County, the team did an assessment of a 285-acre property including producing drone footage and marketing materials that the Hernando County Office of Economic Development uses to promote the manufacturing campus. Ruiz is pictured above at Accuform, one of several manufacturing facilities located at the Center.
The site readiness program has evaluated 293 sites since 2005, which has led to more than $8.3 billion in capital investment and 12,000 new jobs. The site readiness program has been named a top 10 program by Southern Business & Development Magazine, and the Duke Energy team has been a Site Selection Magazine Top Utility in Economic Development for 16 consecutive years.
Her team works with projects of all sizes and industries from data centers to manufacturing, and sometimes it can take years for a project to come to fruition, but it’s rewarding to know she’s helping bring opportunity to the area.
“Every project is different, every interaction with our operations centers is different,” Ruiz said, “but, at the end of the day, we all come together, and the goal is to serve that customer.”