A Position Of Strength
Northwest Florida's skilled, motivated and somewhat untapped workforce -- largely a spinoff from the region's military presence -- - Calhoun and Jackson are among five counties in the state that have fewer jobs now than in 1998.is attracting employers' attention. Both Navy Federal Credit Union and ResortQuest International, two major companies that will significantly increase their presence in the area this year, have cited workforce quality as an important draw.
Rick Harper, director of University of West Florida's Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, cites the region's "disproportionate share of undeveloped land mass" as another plus. "Because a developer like St. Joe has so much land, they've got a strong incentive not to pollute their assets."
Other strengths include reasonable land prices; a stable economy reinforced by the military, a robust real estate/construction market, drive-to tourism and an increased military budget; and a viable east-west transportation corridor.
Meanwhile, the region's Achilles' heel is a lack of north-south transportation routes. With a relatively low population density and no direct access to major markets such as Atlanta, there isn't a strong regional marketplace for manufacturers. Other weaknesses: A lack of infrastructure in rural areas and several areas with low average wage rates.
PENSACOLA & Escambia County
KEY TREND: Downtown redevelopment continues to be a priority as community leaders focus their efforts on attracting what Mike Frey, vice president of economic development for the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce, refers to as the "creative class," entrepreneurial individuals in clean industries such as software development. "We're trying to find ways to make the community vibrant, with a downtown that doesn't close at 5 p.m." Competitively priced air transportation, thanks to AirTran's presence, will also be a key economic development driver.
PEOPLE TO WATCH: Tom Fanning, Gulf Power's president and CEO since May, takes pride in the company's environmental record: "We'll reduce emissions 61% by 2007, on top of the 71% drop since 1992" -- a decline the company realized while adding 85,000 customers. Fanning will work closely with John Cavanaugh, new president of the University of West Florida, on downtown revitalization. A major focus for Cavanaugh, who believes UWF should play a bigger role in economic development, will be the university's development of its 23 newly acquired historic downtown properties into academic and commercial facilities.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: Drawn by the area's quality workforce and military presence, Navy Federal Credit Union is building an in-bound call center and branch office in Escambia, the first major facility outside its Vienna, Va., headquarters, and has optioned an additional 10 acres for future expansion.
Santa Rosa County
PERSON TO WATCH: Early last year, officials considered dismantling the TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council. But since Cindy Anderson, former county engineer for Escambia, came on board last April as executive director, the organization has aggressively courted outside businesses. Anderson has been integral to the development of the Pensacola Area Bay Partnership, the first marketing alliance between Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
BUSINESSES TO WATCH: Image Development Marketing Group of Gulf Breeze and E.W. Bullock Associates of Pensacola have joined forces to develop and market the Pensacola Bay Area Partnership brand. The business alliance mirrors the cooperation between the two counties that has largely replaced their traditional rivalry.
KEY FACT: With a 16% increase last year, Santa Rosa has one of the state's fastest-growing bed tax revenues.
FORT WALTON & Okaloosa County
KEY TREND: Constant advances in high-tech warfare continue to stimulate the area's robust defense contractor industry. Eglin Air Force Base's primary mission of weapon systems development and testing, as well as the anticipated relocation of major Navy training exercises from Vieques, Puerto Rico, will help keep Eglin off the Base Realignment Committee's targeted closings list for 2005.
PERSON TO WATCH: Paul Hsu, chairman and CEO of MTI, a Fort Walton-based international aerospace and defense electronics contractor, has recently been tapped as one of 28 private sector members of the President's Export Council, the national advisory committee on international trade that includes leaders from Boeing, General Motors and Marriott.
BUSINESSES TO WATCH: The Boeing Special Operations Forces Aerospace Support Center has won a multiyear contract for C130 gunship modifications worth a potential $450 million. The deal will add up to 400 jobs in the area. ... Legendary Inc. is partnering with Turnberry Associates of Aventura to develop Destin Commons, a $100-million, 473,000-sq.-ft. retail, entertainment and commercial center that has, with the nearby Grande Boulevard development, catalyzed legal squabbles between Okaloosa and Walton over traffic capacity on U.S. Highway 98. ... Citing a proven workforce and Okaloosa-Walton Community College training programs, Memphis-based ResortQuest International is moving its headquarters to Destin.
KEY FACTS: The military spends about $1.87 billion in Okaloosa annually and employs 24,000 active duty members, reservist and civilians; about 20,080 jobs in other industry sectors are related to military spending.
PERSON TO WATCH: Keith Howard, president and CEO of Howard Group, has more than 20 years of development experience in the Okaloosa/Walton area. Recently he's focused on south Walton, and the group's $150-million, 54-acre Grande Boulevard development is "right on the 50-yard line" between St. Joe's projects to the east and established markets to the west in Destin.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, the first in south Walton County, has experienced greater-than-expected use in its first two months of operation. An adjacent medical office building is under construction, and the 50-bed hospital has been designed for expansion up to 200 beds.
PANAMA CITY & Bay County
KEY TREND: Panama City Beach, one of the oldest resort areas in the state, is undergoing major redevelopment -- more than a dozen projects are ongoing, with smaller mom-and-pop operations being razed to make way for upscale accommodations, challenging community leaders to maintain adequate infrastructure. With the adoption of the West Bay Sector Plan -- at almost 80,000 acres, the state's largest -- Bay County has taken a proactive approach to working with St. Joe Co., which owns about 50% of the county.
PEOPLE TO WATCH: Billy Buzzett, a former lawyer and civil engineer, joined St. Joe Co. two years ago as director of strategic planning. St. Joe's primary rep in the West Bay Sector planning process, Buzzett is now working on implementing that plan, including a 4,000-acre detail-specific area plan for an international airport. ... Late last year, Pam Brangaccio left her job as interim county manager in Charlotte to take the helm in Bay. She hopes she brings with her the wisdom to guide Bay through "a fascinating time." "I was in Collier in the mid-'80s, and that's about where Bay is now," she says.
Holmes / Washington Counties
PERSON TO WATCH: Gary Clark, a vice president with West Florida Electric Cooperative and a director with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, is working to attract businesses that complement the area's manufacturing industry and plentiful land, including distribution centers for major companies such as Wal-Mart.
Jackson / Calhoun / Liberty Counties
PERSON TO WATCH: Johnny Eubanks, president of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and longtime publisher of the Calhoun-Liberty Journal, continues to be a major player in Liberty County. Al Cook, former executive director of Florida's Great Northwest, says Eubanks, a 40-year member of the chamber, is behind "everything good that happens in Liberty County."
BUSINESS TO WATCH: Panhandle Wood Products purchased an underutilized Liberty County wood chip mill from St. Joe Timberland late last year and found new regional markets for the mill's products, more than tripling production.
BUSINESS TO WATCH: David and Trish Tapper Warriner have bought and remodeled the Port Inn, a "grand dame of coastal inns" in the early 20th century. Restored to its 1907 appearance and reopened in February, the 20-room hotel is already gaining popularity as a corporate retreat site.
APALACHICOLA & Franklin County
PERSON TO WATCH: Alan Pierce, county planner and mayor of Apalachicola, will play a central role as Franklin updates its lapsed comprehensive plan. A concurrent "visioning" process will allow citizens, developers and environmental groups to have a voice in the revamping process. Pierce's major challenge? "Trying to keep everyone together."
ORGANIZATION TO WATCH: Controlled growth is a major concern for nonprofit Apalachicola Bay & River Keeper, Franklin County's primary representative in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system water allocation negotiations. The pristine waters of Apalachicola River and Bay are critical to Franklin's seafood industry, a central component of the county's economy that supplies 90% of Florida's oysters and 13% of the nation's.
POPULATION TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Bay152,499154,3251.20%1.30%1.22%Calhoun13,36713,4710.78%1.30%0.96%Escambia299,021301,7350.91%0.91%0.83%Franklin10,02010,0880.68%0.85%0.67%Gulf15,18315,2700.57%2.90%0.58%Holmes18,93719,1160.95%1.17%0.89%Jackson48,35048,9641.27%1.38%0.79%Liberty7,2687,3771.50%1.67%1.24%Okaloosa176,584179,0291.38%1.70%1.36%Santa Rosa125,640129,0852.74%3.06%2.52%Walton44,35845,7923.23%4.17%2.51%Washington21,78622,0651.28%1.49%1.21%FLORIDA16,689,00216,977,8901.73%2.08%1.75%
JOB TOTALSAnnual Percentage ChangeCounty20022003'02-'03'98-'03'03-'08Bay64,44265,9902.40%1.20%2.14%Calhoun3,3193,3520.99%-0.52%1.27%Escambia129,453132,8152.60%0.89%1.79%Franklin3,0723,1131.33%2.71%1.31%Gulf3,7663,7860.53%1.23%0.77%Holmes3,4073,4842.26%0.81%1.70%Jackson13,49513,6761.34%-0.70%0.95%Liberty1,6661,7032.22%1.03%1.95%Okaloosa79,99881,2811.60%1.89%2.01%Santa Rosa27,60728,3862.82%1.54%2.79%Walton12,67113,1844.05%4.97%2.67%Washington6,2346,5725.42%2.76%2.32%FLORIDA7,318,6977,488,0472.31%2.45%2.16%
POPULATION BY AGEYears of AgeCounty0-1415-1920-3940-6465+TOTALBay19.7%6.8%26.4%33.5%13.6%154,325Calhoun17.7%6.9%30.4%30.5%14.5%13,471Escambia19.3%7.9%29.0%30.4%13.4%301,735Franklin14.1%5.2%24.2%39.2%17.3%10,088Gulf16.0%6.2%27.6%34.9%15.3%15,270Holmes18.1%6.7%28.0%31.7%15.5%19,116
Jackson17.3%6.9%28.7%32.9%14.2%48,964Liberty17.3%6.2%35.4%31.1%10.0%7,377Okaloosa 20.4%6.9%28.8%31.6%12.3%179,029Santa Rosa20.5%7.3%25.9%34.5%11.8%129,085Walton17.0%6.1%23.4%36.0%17.5%45,792Washington18.5%6.7%25.6%33.1%16.1%22,065FLORIDA18.5%6.5%25.4%32.0%17.6%16,977,890
PER CAPITA INCOMEPer Capita
Income 2003Source of IncomeCountyLaborPropertyTransferBay$26,91362.9%19.2%17.9%Calhoun$17,65856.3%13.2%30.5%Escambia$24,77862.6%18.8%18.6%Franklin$24,54953.4%19.2%27.4%Gulf$18,91854.8%17.0%28.2%Holmes$18,47652.7%14.3%33.0%Jackson$19,60155.3%14.5%30.2%Liberty$17,46567.5%11.1%21.4%Okaloosa$29,52562.5%23.7%13.8%Santa Rosa$27,34069.6%15.8%14.6%Walton$19,68656.6%18.8%24.6%Washington$19,14655.2%14.1%30.7%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.