Fort Walton/Okaloosa County
» “Defense provides strength, IT is providing growth, tourism and health care are doing well,'' says Linda Sumblin, executive director of the Workforce Development Board of Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Among expansions under way: Destin Commons shopping center, adding 100,000 square feet and 20 to 25 new retailers and restaurants.
» Particularly upbeat in manufacturing was L-3 Crestview Aerospace. It plans to hire 182 workers for its 1,000-plus payroll within two years and invest $13.7 million, including $7 million in facilities upgrades. The company has added 158 jobs since June 2011. The plant performs aerostructure fabrication and assembly and aircraft modification.
» Although Fort Walton Beach, the region's most military-intensive metro area, gained 5.9% in 2011 staffing with the latest round of base realignment and closure, it lost half that gain by December 2012 because of uncertainty over the federal budget — yet to be resolved, says UWF economist Rick Harper. Says Sumblin: “We're holding our breath.''
|Okaloosa Population: 186,692|
|Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.76%|
|Population by Age:|
|Per Capita Income: $43,742|
Panama City/Bay County
» “We had a record-breaking year — tourism was up 12% — on top of a record-breaking year,'' says Dan Rowe, president of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
» Anticipating more growth this year, the Bay County Tourism Development Council has funded a $2.6-million amphitheater at Aaron Bessant Park, and St. Joe Co. is partnering with real estate services firm Casto and Strategic Retail Advisors to build Pier Park North, a 398,000-sq.-ft. retail center.
» Bay County's new international airport and its port are a combination ripe for development, says Stan Connally, CEO of Gulf Power, which recently hired an additional economic development staffer to represent the Bay area. “The whole northwest Florida area is poised to grow our manufacturing sector.”
» Employment growth in Panama City has been erratic since it came out of recession in early 2010 and is still 6% below its 2006 peak, says UWF economist Rick Harper. There are promising developments, however: iSirona, a medical software development company, increased its workforce from 31 to 105 last year and expects to add 100 employees within three years.
Business to Watch
» DeTect: The radar technology company continues to expand overseas with recent MERLIN bird radar contracts at Nigeria's Abuja Airport and at Warsaw Airport in Poland, the first major European airport to install bird radar technology. Those sales are helping to offset lagging U.S. investment in DeTect's technologies. DeTect also received a $9.5-million contract for a new launch wind measurement radar for the Kennedy Space Center, its largest radar to date.
|Bay Population: 173,592|
|Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.90%|
|Population by Age:|
|Per Capita Income: $39,936|