October 1, 2014

Around the State

| 11/1/1997
ESCAMBIA COUNTY -

Minerals Technologies of New York plans to build and operate a precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) plant adjacent to Champion International's paper mill near Pensacola. Expected to cost between $5 million and $9 million, the plant will employ 12 and should be open by mid 1998. Champion needs PCC, a specialty pigment for filling and coating high quality paper, to convert from acid-based technology to an alkaline system.

Wet weather, the ravages of Hurricane Danny in July and poor pollination pushed the Escambia County corn harvest down 60% from last year. Normally, the county produces about 600,000 bushels a year, but this year it is expected to harvest about 200,000 bushels. Corn crops rank third in Escambia behind cotton and soybeans.

PANAMA CITY - The net-fishing ban remains firm, following a Florida Supreme Court ruling that the state amendment doesn't deprive commercial fishermen of fundamental rights. Four commercial fishermen, with financial backing from Southeastern Fisheries and the Organized Fishermen of Florida, challenged the process of putting citizen initiatives on the ballot and claimed the amendment violated their rights to earn a living. The amendment, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1994, still faces challenges in Wakulla and Franklin counties.

PENSACOLA - Baptist Health Care and Alabama-based Baptist Health System signed a letter of intent to merge. The deal would create a $1 billion regional healthcare organization with 17 hospitals, 15,000 employees and over 100 additional healthcare centers and programs. If the merger goes through, the companies predict a $115 million savings in the first five years.

Academy Sports & Outdoors, one of the largest national sporting goods chains, is opening a 60,000-square-foot store. The Texas-based company currently operates 38 stores and will employ about 80 at the Pensacola location.

Gelman Sciences is expanding its plant at Ellyson Park by adding 5,800 square feet to its office and 8,700 square feet to its warehouse and shipping space. The existing plant is 61,600 square feet. The $1 million expansion won't require additional employees.

Neonatal Associates of Northwest Florida, which operates two neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), has been sold to Pediatrix Medical Group (NYSE-PDX) of Fort Lauderdale. Pediatrix operates over 95 NICUs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. o

TOURISM

Pronounced Dead...

... as a vacation destination after being clobbered by Hurricane Opal two years ago, northwest Florida is rising like Lazarus. From Pensacola to Panama City Beach, communities are posting large increases in tourists from all over the U.S. and the world, prompting some communities to ask what they can do to sustain the influx.

In Escambia County, tourism has increased 19% compared with last year, according to bed tax figures compiled by the Pensacola Convention and Visitor's Bureau. As a result, hotels, motels and condominiums are sprouting along Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and Santa Rosa Island.

In Bay County, where Panama City Beach draws an estimated four million people every year, visitor traffic has increased nearly 11% over 1996. As a result, officials with the local airport are pitching a plan to extend the main runway by 2,200 feet to accommodate larger planes, with bigger tourism payloads, from northern states, Canada and Europe. "If we can bring in the larger planes, then more tourists can fly to Panama City Beach than before," says Cindi Whitbeck, a spokeswoman for the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

Allan Bense, chairman of the Bay County Tourist Development Council, agrees, citing informal surveys that show more visitors are flying in and out, instead of driving. "During spring break this year, the airport was packed," he says. "Absolutely packed."

Walton County is also experiencing a good year, says its tourism chief, Malcolm Patterson, with numbers up 26% from 1996. And Walton County leaders are taking note, too, according to Patterson. Already the county commission has squeezed additional money from its budget to improve County Road 30A, the scenic route winding along the Gulf Coast. "It's going to make tourism even better," says Patterson. - Matt Moore

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

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