Around the State- Northwest- Nov. 2000
Northwest Florida has a major fiber-optic pipeline, but until now businesses haven't been able to tap into it.
By Julie S. Bettinger
If the average fiber-optic pipeline is the equivalent of a garden hose, northwest Florida has the Mississippi River running through it. Between fiber-optic lines running along Interstate 10 and a huge pipeline next to the east-west CSX railroad tracks, the region has the highest possible capacity for bandwidth available today.
Major telecom companies put the lines in place as part of an effort to connect Jacksonville and New Orleans: Northwest Florida just happened to be on the chosen pathway. Unfortunately, most businesses along the route have had no way of tapping into the network, which would allow them to greatly increase their Internet speed.
But that may be changing. In downtown Pensacola, for instance, the University of West Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition just moved into its fully renovated off-campus headquarters. The center's Internet service provider, Gulf Coast Internet, persuaded Qwest Communications to provide access to its pipeline. Now the institute has about 30 to 60 times the bandwidth of the average business, says retired Navy Adm. Tim Wright, the institute's managing director.
Epik Communications, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, also has provided access to its pipeline in Tallahassee, giving businesses an opportunity to tap into it.
"For so long, northwest Florida has been insulated from the rest of the world," says Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development. "What this kind of access does is level the playing field."
Okaloosa and Bay counties also will get access to the fiber-optic network. A portion of defense-related funding awarded by the state in January is earmarked for fiber-optic installation in those counties.
Larry Sassano, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, says the No. 1 project for Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base -- both in Okaloosa County -- is to be connected. With the grant, they'll have a fiber-optic line running between their operations and Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City. That would allow them to exchange huge volumes of data at lightning speed.
One requirement of the grant is that the infrastructure must be mutually beneficial to the community. That means businesses close to the pipelines can have access, too.
Without the grant, the infrastructure to connect to the pipelines would likely have never happened, Sassano says. "We're not a major metropolitan area," he says. "We would be the last in line to get it otherwise."
In the News
Century -- Magnum Design & Engineering Co. promised 40 to 80 jobs when it moved to the Century Industrial Park two years ago. But the company hasn't delivered, and now town leaders are pulling the plug on the manufacturer, asking for more than $225,000 in unpaid lease fees and interest. Magnum, which laid off its four employees in August, also owes the state $200,000 for a cash advance -- half of a state grant -- to renovate its facility.
Chipley -- Washington County commissioners are continuing litigation to halt a development effort by developer Harold Vickers at Magnolia Springs but are pursuing a settlement in the 2-year-old dispute. Vickers also raised the ire of residents by seeking authorization from the state to place a berm around part of Magnolia Springs -- known locally as Becton Springs -- and create a spring for scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming. Nearby Cypress Springs has a similar project, also developed by Vickers.
Madison -- Madison County voters passed a public referendum allowing tax abatements for new and expanding businesses. Area economic development representatives predict a large percentage will be used for existing businesses, which account for about 80% of job growth.
Panama City -- The Panama City-Bay County International Airport has moved from the feasibility stage to site selection for its new airport. Bechtel Corp., which conducted the feasibility study, has been awarded $1 million for the site study. Airport officials will decide on a site by the end of the year.
Pensacola -- Escambia teachers won some concessions recently when the school board approved the health-care plan they requested, but it may cost them salary raises. Escambia County teachers are some of the lowest paid in the state, and recent belt-tightening measures have sparked ongoing protests and mass resignations.
St. Andrews -- Historic St. Andrews is in for a new look. The publicly owned St. Andrews Marina is undergoing a $2.2-million makeover -- including floating dock additions and the construction of a bait, tackle and souvenir shop. The changes are scheduled to be completed by March.
Tallahassee -- LearnSomething.com, which provides online continuing education for professionals in regulated industries, has secured venture capital funding from Noro-Moseley Partners. Under its former name, Illuminactive, the company served such clients as Disney, Philips Electronics and the Florida Department of Education.
1WebPlace.net, which announced more than 40 new hires in the first eight months of the year -- and paid them top dollar -- has laid off at least 17 employees, including the CEO and vice president of sales. Financial difficulties and mismanagement are blamed. The average 1WebPlace employee makes more than $60,000 a year.
Arvida, a St. Joe Co., has finally broken ground on its Southwood development. Plans call for more than 4,700 homes by 2020, a town center with retail shops and restaurants, professional offices, a Fred Couples semi-private golf course and a 1,000-acre interconnected park system.
White Springs -- The state's Nature and Heritage Center, scheduled to open in January, is spurring a mini-boom in Hamilton County. A bed and breakfast has moved in, nature and heritage service companies have sprung up and a folk art studio has expanded in anticipation of the new center. Hiking, biking and canoeing trips will originate from the center, just three miles from the intersection of I-75 and I-10.
Walton -- A "scrivener's error" has sparked a lawsuit against Walton County by the owner of a 69-acre parcel of land on the Intracoastal Waterway and Peach Creek. Lamar Sikes claims that on a 1996 land-use map, the county failed to designate his entire parcel for "heavy industrial" use. Two hundred residents opposed his effort to get it rezoned. Sikes has a contract to sell the land to Anderson-Columbia, a paving company.