September 3, 2014

Business Florida 2011 - The Regions

Northwest - Growing Strong

Entrepreneurs find solid support, right sites and plenty of room for expansion in Northwest Florida.


Vince Mayfield and Louis Erickson found the the right environment for business success in Northwest Florida. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
In Austin, Texas, they were just two guys running a computer software firm from home. But in Fort Walton Beach, Florida — with its affordable class A office space, a lower cost of living, less traffic and proximity to several universities and colleges — Vince Mayfield and his lifelong friend Louis Erickson became two business owners who returned to their home state of Florida to find the perfect location and grow their firm into something beyond either’s wildest expectations.

In less than 10 years since they started working together, Mayfield and Erickson went from two ordinary guys in a garage to the savvy owners of Bit-Wizards Custom Software Solutions, which in 2009 ranked No. 1617 on Inc. magazine’s list of the “Top 5000 Fastest Growing Privately Held Firms.” Their company generated $2.4 million in revenue in 2009 and, in 2010, was named one of “Florida’s Best Companies to Work For” by Florida Trend magazine.

Regional Assets

Universities/Colleges
• Chipola College
• Florida A&M University
• Florida State University
• Gulf Coast Community College
• Northwest Florida State College
• Pensacola State College
• Tallahassee Community College
• University of West Florida

Airports
• Northwest Florida Beaches
? ? International Airport
• Northwest Florida Regional Airport
• Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport
• Tallahassee Regional Airport

Seaports
• Port Panama City
• Port of Pensacola
• Port St. Joe Marina

Not a bad feat, says Mayfield, considering they were never in this for the money. “We didn’t start this company to get rich quick,” he says. “We started it because we wanted a great place to work.”

That’s not to say that the last 10 years have been completely rosy. Bit-Wizards nearly closed its doors in 2002 after a downturn in the economy but managed to survive until 2003, when Mayfield and Erickson made their first hire. Today, Bit-Wizards has 23 employees, including that first person hired in 2003.

Mayfield credits the company’s success to a combination of factors: dedication and persistence among the owners and staff, plus the concerted efforts of local economic developers who, he says, work as hard to keep existing businesses in the area as they do trying to attract new ones.

Mayfield admits that neither he nor Erickson had much in the way of business experience before launching their firm; both came from strong engineering backgrounds. “But we knew what we didn’t know,” he says acknowledging that Bit-Wizards was helped along the way by the Small Business Center at the University of West Florida, which offers fledging entrepreneurs all-day business courses. Mayfield enrolled in two courses: one on proper bookkeeping methods, the other on county licensing and permit requirements.

In 2009, Bit-Wizards received a $40,000 WIRED grant from Florida’s Great Northwest, the organization charged with distributing more than $30 million in federal grant money and matching funds to underwrite workforce development initiatives throughout Northwest Florida in certain targeted industries, such as information technology. For its part, Bit-Wizards matched the grant with $127,000 to ensure that staff members have the most up-to-date Microsoft and developer certifications as well as training to build their management skills.

Bit-Wizards experienced an explosive 198% increase in revenue between 2006 and 2008, and from Mayfield’s perspective there’s no better place to make growth happen than Northwest Florida. “In general, there’s a great climate here in Florida in terms of business,” he says. “I think it’s one of the world’s best-kept secrets.”

Northwest Florida
Demographics for the Northwest Region can be found at
Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.

Tags: Business Florida, Northwest

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