Around the State
A state judge granted Coastal Petroleum Co. a permit to drill an exploratory well about nine miles off the coast of Franklin County. Coastal, a subsidiary of Bermuda-based Coastal Caribbean Oils & Minerals Ltd., must first post a $225 million surety bond. The Florida Cabinet originally imposed a $4.25 billion bond.
PRIDE Industries of Florida, a private, non-profit corporation that trains inmates and puts them to work, shut down its seafood processing facility. It wasn't making enough money to justify operating expenses. The facility employed 30 inmates of the Calhoun Correctional Institution.
UniversalCom, a reseller of telecommunications technology to the hospital industry, grew annual sales from $6 million to $16 million and its work force from 30 to 110. The company has offices in Pensacola and Panama City.
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma leaders rejected a proposed 1,500-acre resort and bingo parlor. Principal Chief Jerry Haney has pitched the project since 1994, but came up two votes shy.
Internet service provider Digital Express Internet Services expanded its operations through the rest of the Panhandle and began offering service to four counties in Ohio and one in Georgia.
Sanders Food closed its 12 Hardees restaurants. Owner Harry Sanders says eight have been sold. Buyers include Golden Apple Management Co., Wendy's franchisee WenSouth, Amoco and a Tallahassee-based Burger King franchisee. Sanders employed 300.
Landowners say the local timber industry could be hurt if the flatbed salamander is added to Florida's endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must approve the addition, which would, in effect, ban timber harvesting on private property that is home to the salamander. The agency says few property owners would be affected.
School district officials want to buy more land to build more schools to accommodate expected population growth in Crestview and Destin.
Business owners want to change the community's name to West Destin to better identify the area for business prospects. Recent developments on the island include the opening of a 100-room, $2 million Best Western Hotel, the first new hotel on the island in 20 years.
Jacksonville-based St. Joe Corp. (NYSE-SJP) announced plans to build a hotel and resort property in Seaside and also a resort near Seagrove.
A city council plan to build a $6.5 million fiber-optic network will go forward even though only nine out of 240 potential client companies say they might use it. According to commissioners, the network could raise money for the city and attract high-tech companies. Bonds would be issued to pay for the project. Sprint and Comcast Cablevision operate their own fiber-optic networks in the area.
Englewood, Colo.-based CSG Systems says it will open a computerized mailing and billing center in the county's new Opportunity Park. CSG will employ 40 with a salary range of $20,000 to $24,000.
The Kids Are All Right, But...
... Bay County business and tourism leaders say it's time to grow up. Panama City Beach has long been a spring break mecca for college and high school students. More than 650,000 descend on the beach in February and March to drink, dance and party with MTV. Problem is, the crazed-youth image lingers year-round, and efforts are now underway to recast the area as a destination for all ages by promoting more family-oriented activities like country music festivals, slow pitch softball tournaments and a $140,000 air show that's slated for September.
Panama City Beach is right behind Orlando as Florida's No. 2 destination for visitors arriving by car, and it's a reasonable day-drive for most residents of the Southeast U.S. The man behind retooling the area's marketing machine is Dan Stark, new executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council (TDC). "We are becoming proactive instead of reactive," says Stark, who went to work in February after eight years as director of San Bernardino, Calif.'s convention and visitors bureau. "Instead of automatically thinking the tourists will come, we're going to make them want to come here whether it's April, July or September."
Stark's $95,000 salary reflects the county's commitment to an image makeover for Panama City Beach. He has hired a full-time special events director and established a marketing and sales department. He also is transforming the TDC, a government agency, into a private, non-profit corporation. "By doing this, we can go after corporate sponsors without presenting any conflict of interest problems with the county," Stark says. The TDC will be renamed the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, and it plans to build a new 5,300-square-foot visitors center in July, more than tripling the size of its current facility.
Beach businesses look forward to the changes, according to Debi Parish, executive director of the Beaches Chamber of Commerce. "Tourism is a competitive market, and we have to compete with everybody from the casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi, to Disney World," she says.
- Matt Moore