COCOA — Walmart‘s $145 million “Perishable Distribution Center” off State Road 524 officially opens today (Aug. 22) with workers preparing thousands of refrigerated food containers and other items daily and trucking them to the retailer’s stores across Florida. The imposing bleach white, 555,000-square-foot facility currently employs more than 400 people, and is about a five-minute drive to Interstate 95. It’s the SR 524-to-I-95 link, as well as the availability of vacant land — not to mention a number of city and county tax breaks — that helped Cocoa outmaneuver other competing communities for the Walmart distribution center.

“Clearly, State Road 524 is one of the primary growth corridors for the city of Cocoa,” said Cocoa City Manager John Titkanich, adding, “The Walmart distribution center is a significant economic boost to the city of Cocoa and the Space Coast community.” And Walmart may not be done growing its footprint off SR 524. Titkanich noted Walmart also owns 125 acres east of the center, which it plans to develop at some point for additional light industrial/warehouse, commercial, and office uses. The $145 million Walmart distribution center opens in Cocoa. Eventually it will employ about 450 people.

At the new center opening, the spectrum of jobs runs from equipment operators to quality control to maintenance workers.  For most of the workers at the new Walmart distribution center, pay starts at $16.05 per hour and increases closer to the $20-an-hour range over a two-and-a-half year progression, the company said in a statement earlier this year as it was holding job fairs to attract workers.

The Walmart distribution center joins other new projects along, or near, the SR 524 corridor. Pilot Flying J Travel Center opened a year ago at I-95 and SR 524 featuring a Wendy’s, Cinnabon and PJ Fresh. Also located nearby to west of that development is a new Mike Erdman Toyota and Nissan dealership.

Michael Dreyer of Dreyer & Associates Real Estate Group, which represents a number of property owners along SR 524, said the interest in the area suddenly is sizzling following years of inactivity. “It has been a long time coming,” Dreyer said, “but the activity I am receiving from my signs and marketing material from companies wanting to now locate in these areas has increased five fold. I am very excited for what the future holds for the property owners.”

Wayne Price is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY.

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