The big bend region's core economic strength -- the hub created by state government and higher-education in Tallahassee that brings both brainpower and white-collar jobs to the region -- is also its Achilles' heel. As Gov. Jeb Bush begins his fifth year of trying to - Lafayette County posted the biggest percentage increase in jobs from 2002-03, with 4.84% growth -- from 1,344 to 1,409.shrink Florida government, with a proposed elimination of 2,905 state positions this year, the region is likely again to be the hardest hit statewide. Economic development officials for years have been warning that the region needs to diversify. But here's the catch: Relocating companies take one look at Leon County's 3% unemployment rate and say, "No thanks."
A more aggressive, more regional approach to economic development may help. Big bend officials have ferreted out new statistics to show companies that while Leon County's labor force is about 155,000, the labor force within 50 miles is closer to 250,000.
Thousands of residents in surrounding counties already commute. For example, 59.3% of Wakulla, 38.9% of Jefferson and 36.8% of Gadsden working residents drive to Leon County each morning for work. "This perception that there's no workforce here is a mis-notion," says Sue Dick, executive director of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. "We have excellent state workers who are being downsized; we have 50,000 college students; and we have high wage numbers when you consider the number of commuters coming in."
TALLAHASSEE & Leon County
KEY TREND: The new leaders of Tallahassee's three institutions of higher learning -- Florida State University's T.K. Wetherell, Florida A&M University's Fred Gainous and Tallahassee Community College's Bill Law -- have promised unprecedented support for economic development in the city and county. A few examples: Law recently hired a vice president for economic and workforce development. Gainous has launched a program to better expose the city and its leaders to the many out-of-state companies that recruit heavily for FAMU students. And Wetherell is taking the lead on an ambitious plan to establish a 1,500-acre research park on the south side of campus.
PERSON TO WATCH: Tallahassee has high hopes for its new mayor, John Marks, who won his first election by a wide margin that ended one opponent's 16-year career on the city commission. Marks, a 55-year-old lawyer who served on the state's Public Service Commission for eight years, entered the race in part because of frustration in the minority community at the formerly all-white city council. He won 43% of the vote in a five-way race in early February and 67% in a run-off later in the month. Marks campaigned on the need for the city to forge stronger partnerships with FSU, FAMU and TCC. For example, he wants the city to work with FAMU's pharmacy school, FSU's medical and nursing schools and TCC's allied health programs to turn Tallahassee into a hub for the medical research industry.
BUSINESS TO WATCH:
Buoyed by increasing law-enforcement needs since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Tallahassee's Datamaxx continues its rapid expansion, grossing $19 million in revenue last year, up from $10.3 million in 2001. With its state-of-the-art police-cruiser laptops, mobile satellites, hand-held devices and other high-tech tools, Datamaxx has cornered 70% of the law-enforcement communications market in North America. The once-tiny company now has more than 100 employees and recently moved into a 32,500-sq.-ft. facility in SouthWood.
Madison / Taylor Counties
BUSINESS TO WATCH:
Fewer area babies will be born en route to Tallahassee once the new Doctor's Memorial Hospital in Perry opens this month. Taylor County voters passed a 1-cent sales tax in 1999 to build a $21-million replacement for their 48-bed hospital. In addition to the much-needed obstetrics unit and nursery, the 96,000-sq.-ft. facility will offer, for the first time, cardiology and orthopedic medicine. DMH, which serves Taylor and Madison as well as Lafayette and Dixie counties, also is increasing its staff in its effort to become a regional rather than local institution. In the past 10 years, it has grown from two doctors and 83 total employees to 30 physicians and 300 employees. To ensure future staffing, the hospital is footing full-ride FSU med-school scholarships to three Perry college students who have promised to return home to practice at DMH.
Gadsden / Jefferson / Wakulla Counties
BUSINESS TO WATCH:
Historic and nature-based tourism continues to drive economic growth in these counties and will be bolstered later this year with the opening of Dixie Plantation for eco-tours. Owned by the Geraldine C.M. Livingston Foundation, the 9,000-acre Jefferson County quail plantation is little-known except to bird-dog lovers; it is the locale for a premier field trial called the Continental. But soon, it will be open to the public for outdoor tours, including special wildflower and birding expeditions. "We want to entertain people and educate them," says managing trustee John Finlayson. Someday, the foundation hopes to restore the plantation's 14,200-sq.-ft. (that's not including servants' quarters) Greek Revival home designed by architect John Russell Pope, the designer of the National Gallery of Art, National Archives and Jefferson Memorial.
Gilchrist / Lafayette Counties
BUSINESS TO WATCH: The clear-blue spring waters that bring nature-loving tourists to these counties will provide another sort of economic-development boost this year. The Coca-Cola Co. bought a 51% stake in the bottled-water plant at Gilchrist's Ginnie Springs and plans to double the operations of the company, now called CCDA Waters LLC. The plant employs 75 and is expected to add 25 jobs.
Suwannee / Columbia / Hamilton Counties
KEY TREND: All three counties have created committees to review growth-management plans in an effort to better map future commercial growth while preserving the environmental gems that make the area shine. "We've been asking for a long time for a review of the entire comp plan instead of spot changes," says Eddy Hillhouse, executive director of the Suwannee County Economic Development Alliance.
PERSON TO WATCH: One person to watch as Hamilton County deals with some community-dividing growth issues: Former first-grade teacher Amanda Parks, a Hamilton County native and new executive director of the chamber. Parks says she hopes to "unify the forces here to build a better community."
POPULATION TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Columbia58,00958,8551.46%1.62%1.86%Gadsden45,54745,7580.46%0.34%0.47%Gilchrist15,24415,6812.87%2.98%2.58%Hamilton13,85313,9500.70%2.26%0.66%Jefferson13,24413,6222.85%0.63%0.68%Lafayette7,2407,3872.03%2.09%1.40%Leon248,802252,4771.48%1.67%1.46%Madison19,03319,1700.72%0.86%0.71%Suwannee36,55837,2491.89%2.20%1.83%Taylor19,97520,3391.82%1.28%0.92%Wakulla24,55525,1672.49%3.93%2.52%FLORIDA16,689,00216,977,8901.73%2.08%1.75%
JOB TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Columbia19,12419,5922.45%0.45%1.80%Gadsden13,76613,9901.63%1.08%0.91%Gilchrist2,4632,5252.52%2.29%2.31%Hamilton3,5153,5571.19%-1.31%0.98%Jefferson2,9953,0632.27%3.08%1.25%Lafayette1,3441,4094.84%1.20%3.81%Leon149,980153,1792.13%1.98%2.18%Madison5,4885,6232.46%1.39%2.06%Suwannee9,2579,4301.87%0.56%1.62%Taylor6,6516,8923.62%1.03%1.48%Wakulla4,7764,9022.64%4.56%2.18%FLORIDA7,318,6977,488,0472.31%2.45%2.16%
POPULATION BY AGEYears of AgeCounty0-1415-1920-3940-6465+TOTALColumbia20.5%7.4%25.4%32.6%14.1%58,855Gadsden21.3%7.3%27.0%32.0%12.445,758Gilchrist19.6%8.3%27.2%31.1%13.8%15,681Hamilton18.2%6.1%7.1%31.4%11.2%13,950Jefferson17.6%6.6%25.5%35.7%14.6%13,622Lafayette17.8%6.2%34.9%28.6%12.5%7,387
Leon17.2%10.8%35.6%28.2%8.2%252,477Madison19.6%7.8%28.7%29.4%14.5%19,170Suwanee 19.1%7.0%22.6%33.4%17.9%37,249Taylor 19.0%6.9%27.1%32.9%14.1%20,339Wakulla19.5%7.5%26.3%35.7%11.0%25,167FLORIDA18.5%6.5%25.4%32.0%17.6%16,977,890
PER CAPITA INCOMEPer Capita
Income 2003Source of IncomeCountyLaborPropertyTransferColumbia$21,21860.9%15.8%23.3%Gadsden$21,56964.9%11.8%23.3%Gilchrist$19,06362.9%13.6%23.5%Hamilton$15,13658.2%12.6%29.2%Jefferson$24,32963.9%15.8%20.3%Lafayette$16,63964.9%13.7%21.4%Leon$28,92373.5%16.1%10.4%Madison$18,25055.8%15.0%29.2%Suwannee$21,07753.9%17.9%28.2%Taylor$20,76659.5%14.8%25.7%Wakulla$25,49875.0%11.4%13.6%FLORIDA$30,65460.2%23.7%16.1%
SOURCE: "Florida Long-Term Economic Forecast 2002," the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida. Data are estimates or projections. Population data include military stationed in Florida and inmates. Jobs data measure civilian, nonagricultural wage and salary positions. Property income includes rent, dividend and interest payments; transfer income includes retirement, veterans and unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid and income assistance.