October 1, 2014

Around the State

| 10/1/1998
Gulf County - How long will the recently shuttered Florida Coast Paper Co. mill in Port St. Joe stay closed this time, residents wonder. In 1997, a five-month shutdown of the plant, Gulf County's largest employer, crippled the county's economy and sent unemployment to a record high of nearly 20%. Then, in August, company officials announced another furlough, blaming depressed paper prices worldwide and slack demand for the liner board the plant produces. The move left 465 jobless. The company said the plant will be closed for six weeks, but some expect it will be much longer. Joe Danford, chair of the Gulf County Economic Development Council, says the shutdown could last well into 1999. Some who have worked at the plant for years fear a permanent closure: Chicago-based Stone Container Corp., 50% owner of the mill, is about to merge with Jefferson Smurfit, a mill operator based in St. Louis; John Simley, spokesman for Stone, acknowledges the merger will leave the company with too many mills. Unfortunately for Port St. Joe, its mill is old, transportation links weak - I-10 is 60 miles away - and port facilities primitive.

The mill has anchored Gulf County's economy for six decades, and some continue to view the shutdown as nothing more than a market-induced bump in the road. Many long-time locals and business owners side with Gulf County Commission Chairman Warren Yeager: "Up until last year, the paper industry wasn't so volatile," he says. "I always look to the paper mill as the base of Gulf County's economy. I think everything will be fine." But the closures - and the prospect of losing the mill - are prompting more residents to talk about diversifying the county's economic base. The region's growing tourism sector offers opportunities, and a countywide bed tax awaiting voter approval in November would help fill county coffers and fund promotional efforts. Gulf Coast Community College is opening a vocational training center and branch campus in Port St. Joe. There's talk of expanding local port facilities, and construction is under way on a multimillion dollar marina in Port St. Joe.

Not long ago, at a commission meeting at which marina plans were discussed, someone asked whether a billowing smokestack and the mill's acrid stench wouldn't discourage pleasure boaters. Locals loyal to the mill, reluctant to bite the hand that has fed their families for so long, cut short the discussion.- Matt Moore

APALACHICOLA - County commissioners are mulling a countywide 1% or 2% bed tax on visitors staying at hotels, motels, campgrounds and RV parks in Franklin County.

FREEPORT- LaGrange Bayou Marina Inc. plans to build a 24-slip marina, which will include fueling and sewage pump-out facilities and a 25-space recreational vehicle park, at the mouth of Four Mile Creek in Walton County. The Florida Cabinet had to approve the company's plan to build on state-owned submerged lands.

JACKSON COUNTY - A proposed 2% bed tax, if approved by voters in November, would be levied for two years and could generate $200,000 to promote tourism and update and maintain local parks and recreational areas.

MARIANNA - Alexander City, Ala.-based Russell Corp. closed one of its sewing plants, eliminating 135 jobs. Also shuttered were 25 of Russell's 27 retail outlets, including sites in Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, Fort Pierce, Marco Island, Orlando and St. Augustine. Corporate restructuring and cost-cutting spared two other local sewing plants and a distribution center, which employ 500. Russell also runs plants in Crestview and Niceville. Some work will move to Russell operations in Mexico and Honduras.

PANAMA CITY - Berg Steel Pipe Co. will produce nearly 250 miles of steel pipe for the Alliance Pipeline Project, which will carry natural gas from Alberta, Canada, to central Illinois. Port Panama City is expanding railway capacity in its industrial park to accommodate the estimated 3,000 rail cars that will transport pipe through the end of 1999. Berg Steel employs more than 300 workers.

Delray Beach-based ASRC Contracting Co. will build and operate an aviation support facility at Panama City-Bay County International Airport that will create 30 jobs. ASRC, part of Anchorage, Alaska-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp., will focus on avionics and power plants for various aircraft.

SOUTH WALTON

TALLAHASSEE - Millionaire developer Devoe Moore withdrew plans for a stadium complex for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays double-A team, citing environmental concerns, specifically for wetlands near the proposed 6,500-seat stadium. Moore could build a stadium on property he owns in Gadsden County. The Devil Rays farm team is currently based in Orlando, which won't build a new stadium.

Tallahassee Community College (TCC) becomes the first school in the U.S. to offer a construction skills course accredited by the 138-year-old City & Guilds of London Institute. Starting next spring, TCC will offer a combined certification course of study in bricklaying, plumbing, electrical installation, painting and decorating through its Havana Institute for Art and Preservation Training.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida, Northwest

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