Around the State
Starter Corp., which pulled out of its new Century factory last year, returned $240,000 to the city to pay off the $290,000 loan it received from Century when it moved there in 1991.
Fort Walton Beach
Vitro Services won a $126 million, three-year contract with the Air Force Development Test Center at Eglin Air Force Base. Vitro, a subsidiary of Austin, Texas-based Tracor (Nasdaq-TTRR), will help test defense weapons systems, air armament and munitions. The contract calls for options that could extend the contract to eight years, which would add another $216 million.
Advanced Engineering & Research Associates (AERA) won a $30 million, five-year contract with the Naval Air Systems Command to design and produce computer-based training. AERA will move into a larger facility and add another 20 to 30 jobs.
Conroe, Texas-based Compression Coat moved two of its four mobile concrete coating plants to Pensacola Shipyard where it will hire about 70 semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The company will make coated pipes for Amoco, which is expanding its natural gas and oil operations off the island of Trinidad and will need more than 170 miles of pipe.
General Electric agreed to buy computerized-systems control software developer Instrument Control Service, which employs 200 in Pensacola. GE plans to make ICS a subsidiary of GE Motors & Industrial Systems of Atlanta.
Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway plans to sell its 139-mile Pensacola Railway by mid September. The company is currently negotiating with several potential buyers. Fort Worth, Texas-based Burlington employs about 75 workers on the Pensacola to Kimbrough, Ala., railway.
Mobil Oil asked the Department of Interior for a permit to drill an exploratory well 17 miles off Pensacola Beach in search of oil and natural gas. Mobil has been seeking permission to drill the well since 1989.
Utility contractor R.D. Moody & Associates was acquired by Miami-based MasTec (NYSE-MTZ), a telecommunications and related infrastructure service provider.
In its annual review of U.S. graduate programs, U.S. News and World Report ranked Florida State University's film school as the fourth best among state universities in the country. FSU trailed the University of Southern California, UCLA and the University of Texas.
Large Flightless Birds ...
... could become a hot agricultural commodity in northwest Florida. As many as 300 farms in the region are raising ostriches, emus or rheas, collectively known as ratites. Santa Rosa and Escambia counties have about 25 farms each, says Kenneth Windsor, president and CEO of RBP Meats Inc. of Crest- view, who estimates that about 25,000 birds are now ready for market between northwest Florida, southern Alabama and southwest Georgia. Ostriches are slaughtered at around 13 months and produce about 100 pounds of meat. A breeding pair of birds can produce 30 to 50 offspring per year. Windsor's company may solve one problem for ratite farmers - getting their birds to market. RBP Meats, which raises all three types of birds, intends to open a $650,000, 5,000-square-foot processing plant in early 1998 at the Holt Industrial Park in Okaloosa County. A processing facility in Century in northern Escambia County only takes birds one or two days a month, according to Windsor, who says an additional plant will lower the price of ratite meat - ostrich sells for about $10 a pound. The RBP plant will be the only one within 250 miles that meets government standards permitting export to overseas markets. Europe imports ostrich meat from South Africa and emu meat from Australia, and distributors from Germany and England have expressed an interest in doing business with RBP. Developing the domestic market for the birds is another matter. Demand has remained low, despite appeals to consumers that the meat has all the protein of beef, but with 90% less fat and half the calories. Area Albertson's stores recently offered consumers samples of ostrich, which is said to taste like steak, but public perception discourages broad acceptance. "People think of ostrich as something in a zoo," concedes Henry Wilson, a professor in the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. But he tells bird farmers to hang in there. Those who can "weather the next few years may have great potential."
- Tim Meyer