Military retirees have helped make Crestview one of the fastest-growing communities in the state.
By Julie S. Bettinger
When Crestview Aerospace Corp., which makes aircraft parts, bid on a $270-million contract from Bell Helicopter Textron recently, the helicopter-maker had questions. Where was CAC going to find workers in the Panhandle town of some 40,000 residents, and how would it train them if it got the contract?
The answer to the first question, CAC told Bell, was the large number of retired military personnel who have moved to the area from nearby military installations, including Pensacola Naval Air Station, Eglin Air Force Base and Fort Rucker in Alabama.
Those retirees have helped make Crestview one of the state's fastest-growing cities: Population has shot up 35.7% in the past nine years. In addition to being close to the bases, Crestview, the Okaloosa County seat 27 miles north of Fort Walton Beach, also offers the retirees a low cost of living. A three-bedroom, two-bath home, for example, sells for about $85,000.
As for Bell's question of how CAC would train the workers, the state provided incentives in the form of Incumbent Worker Training funds to upgrade the skills of existing workers and Quick Response Training money for new hires.
Ultimately, the combination of answers helped CAC beat out industry giants Northrop Grumman and BFGoodrich Aerospace to win the giant Bell contract. Larry Sassano, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, says that while the incentives helped, the labor force information went a long way toward landing the deal.
The contract will boost the city's fortunes and help secure a solid future for CAC, which was in jeopardy of being sold off 10 years ago after its then-parent, Fairchild Industries, filed for bankruptcy. Jack Owen, CAC's president, found a buyer for the unit and reorganized it with 12 employees and zero sales; by last year, revenues were $20 million.
The Bell contract will more than double CAC's sales and increase its workforce by 30%-50%. Since January, CAC has added 60 jobs, boosting employment to 330. The company's offices and hangars are spread out over half of the 100 acres it owns next to the Bob Sikes Regional Airport. Says Owen: "We presented a strong case that we would have the people available and we could train those people to the skill levels we needed to accomplish the Bell program."
In the News
Cypress -- A local and state incentive package worth more than $1.5 million persuaded Louisiana Pacific to expand its lumber mill near Marianna. The deal preserved 57 jobs; the company may add another 95 over the next year. LP's initial capital investment for the expansion exceeds $8.9 million.
Destin -- City council members decided to leave U.S. 98 at four lanes from Emerald Coast Parkway to the Marler Bridge but hope to build a two-lane parallel route to the north for local traffic.
Panama City -- Advantis, the commercial real estate services arm of the St. Joe Co., has opened an office in Panama City, the company's second in northwest Florida. Last year, it opened a branch in Tallahassee. Neil C. Jones, founding partner of the Seltzer Management Group in Panama City, will be director.
Panhandle -- A new regional economic development organization called Florida's Great Northwest is getting off the ground. It will be modeled after the private, non-profit Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
Pensacola -- The Port of Pensacola secured $1.5 million to build a bulkhead at the Trillium property on the waterfront in downtown Pensacola. The funds were provided by the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council. The project is expected to begin next spring.
The Escambia County School Board has established a new technical high school, West Florida High School of Advanced Technology. Scheduled to open in August 2001, the school will integrate traditional academic subjects with technical training to prepare students for employment or post-secondary education.
Santa Rosa Beach -- Sacred Heart hospital is looking for a major contributor for a $40-million medical facility planned for south Walton. At least $5 million will need to be raised locally for the project, and sources say the hospital will consider naming the facility in honor of the contributor as an incentive. The area has gone without a healthcare facility since Destin hospital closed seven years ago. Two sites, both being donated by the St. Joe Co., are still being considered.
South Walton -- Hoping to link well-known beaches such as Grayton and Sandestin with south Walton County and capitalize on the reputation of Florida's Panhandle, the Walton County Tourist Development Council has started a new marketing campaign with the slogan: "Florida's Panhandle. Pure and Simple." The council has budgeted $540,000 for ads to run in southeastern U.S. publications such as Southern Living, Coastal Living and Atlanta and Birmingham city magazines.
Tallahassee -- In a travel market known for high air fares and limited service, there was finally some positive news: Tallahassee Regional Airport traffic was up 14% following the addition of Northwest Airlines in the summer. Officials say fewer people drove to Jacksonville and Valdosta, Ga., for deals.
The FAMU-FSU College of Engineering has established a Multidisciplinary Design and Training Clinic to promote better interaction between engineering students and industry. The new clinic will allow undergraduate students to work on chemical, civil, environmental, electrical, computer, industrial and mechanical engineering design projects with industry partners.