More than just gathering data, we're capturing elements that make each community distinctive.
Driver’s Seat: Defense
The military is the 900-pound gorilla in the economy of northwest Florida. Eglin Air Force Base — at more than 450,000 acres — spans parts of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. The base employs more than 8,500 military and approximately 4,500 civilians, with an additional 2,200 jobs due to move to Eglin under the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission changes.
Approximately 30,000 military and another 30,000 defense-support personnel are spread among Naval Air Station Pensacola, NAS Whiting Field and Eglin Air Force Base and the other bases Eglin encompasses. According to a 2008 analysis by the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research, about 35% of northwest Florida regional output is driven by defense spending, compared to 18% for northeast Florida, 5% for central Florida and 3% for south Florida. In Okaloosa County, for example, defense-related spending accounts for 73% of economic activity. Another example: In 2004 in Escambia County, the federal government spent $9,294 per capita, compared to $6,599 in Miami and $7,800 in Duval and Pinellas counties.
The Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze has helped scores of amateur and professional athletes. [Photo: Bpm/www.birdwell.us]
Other Economic Drivers
- Tourism: While Destin may not have the national profile of Fort Lauderdale, the Okaloosa County town is synonymous with “beach” in Atlanta, Nashville and much of the mid-South. Northwest Florida’s beaches attract some 4.5 million visitors each year. The area is also rich in history — Pensacola has flown the flags of Spain, France, England, the Confederacy and the U.S.
- Panama City-Bay County International Airport: The relocated airport, the first international airport under construction in the U.S. since Denver’s, may further development in the region more than any other single factor.
- Port of Pensacola: The region’s largest port, which is both a Foreign Trade Zone and Enterprise Zone, handles agricultural products, cement, paper, power plant and power generation equipment, animal feed, construction supplies and frozen cargo.
- Port Panama City: Formerly dominated by traffic in wood pulp, the port, a Foreign Trade Zone, now handles manufactured goods, steel, machinery and feed products.
IHMC’s PISCES machine helps users swim long distances, often stealthily, such as during Navy SEAL missions. It works by augmenting a swimmer’s natural motions. [Photo: Bpm/www.birdwell.us]
- Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (Pensacola): This high-concept, world-class research institution focuses on science and technology that improves the interaction between humans and machines.
- The Andrews Research and Education Institute, a center for sports medicine, houses research facilities in biomechanics, physiology and surgical materials testing.
- Workforce: The presence of many retired military personnel and their families creates a solid, talented workforce whose skills impact the effectiveness of both commercial ventures and the region’s educational and research institutions.
- Research Capability: Numerous military missions involve research, training or both, including the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Lab in Pensacola. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City alone has a staff of some 700 researchers and scientists who work on systems using air, ground and underwater unmanned vehicles. The Veterans Administration DOD Joint Ambulatory Care Clinic will contribute to the advancement of the region’s growing medical device industry. At Eglin, the Air Armament Center is responsible for developing, testing and deploying all air-delivered weapons.
- Renewable Energy: The region’s pine forests — some of the largest in the world — have drawn interest as a renewable source of biofuels. Pensacola is also GE’s wind energy manufacturing center and boasts a Waste Management landfill that converts methane gas to electricity. Green Circle Bio Energy has built a large, technologically advanced wood pellet facility in Jackson County, just west of where Florida borders Georgia and Alabama.
- Higher Education: Along with the University of West Florida, which operates throughout the region, both FSU and the University of Florida operate in the area as well. The University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility in Okaloosa County offers graduate-degree programs in electrical, computer and aerospace engineering.
- Florida’s Great Northwest: The region cooperates under the banner of Florida’s Great Northwest, which has developed a well-considered, targeted strategy for how best to capitalize on the area’s resources.
- Culture: Pensacola boasts a symphony, opera and ballet company. Other towns in the region offer a range of cultural offerings.
- ActiGraph: Designs high-tech life sciences devices. One of at least three successful businesses founded by entrepreneur Paul Hsu.
- Avalex Technologies: Conducts aerial mapping and video.
- St. Joe: The Jacksonville real estate company has extensive land holdings in the area.
- Gulf Power: CEO Susan Story has risen to prominence in statewide business circles.
- AppRiver: The company specializes in secure e-mail programs, including protection from spam and viruses.
- Baptist Health Care and Sacred Heart Health System: The two non-profits operate throughout the region, together employing more than 10,000.