Piloting Growth in NW Fla.
"We're out in the market now talking to real estate and corporate executives."
— Kevin Johnson, St. Joe vice president
for economic development
Janet Watermeier, executive director of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, says one company, Coast WET of California, has already moved its headquarters to the area; two others are considering airport locations. "We're out in the market now talking to real estate and corporate executives," says Kevin Johnson, St. Joe vice president for economic development.
St. Joe itself is moving its headquarters to a site adjacent to the airport, relocating from its 75-year home in Jacksonville. The new headquarters, scheduled for completion by summer 2011, will also consolidate offices from Tallahassee, Port St. Joe and south Walton County.
Business leaders predict the airport eventually will form the nucleus of an entire new central business district. The facility also will help capture tourists from far outside the southeast market and lead to a surge in industrial development, they say. "It will be an airport city," says airport director Randy Curtis.
The airport, Florida's newest, encompasses 1,300 acres and a 130,000-sq.-ft. terminal, both twice the dimensions of the airport it replaces, and with room to grow. Service will include first-time daily non-stop flights to Houston, Nashville, Baltimore and Orlando by prized new connector Southwest Airlines.
"This will allow us to reach audiences that can come and experience Panama City Beach for the first time," says Bay County Tourist Development Council executive director Dan Rowe. Bay County and the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council together have pledged more than $3 million per year from a fifth penny on bed taxes for use in joint marketing with low-fare airlines, 90% dedicated to Southwest.
The airport's West Bay site is part of 75,000 untapped acres owned by St. Joe Co., of which 40,000 acres are designated for preservation and more than 33,000 programmed for development; 1,000 acres are targeted to be occupant-ready within two years. Runway proximity gives the site appeal for aerospace, transportation and logistics industries. Altogether, says Johnson, "I don't think there's another asset in our region remotely close to what we have."
Plans call for the airport to eventually form the nucleus of a new central business district.