Alternative fuels and steady growth keep Northwest Florida's economy humming.
Soaring to New Heights
Founded as an aero-medical company, Flightline Group is today a multi-site corporation offering aircraft sales and maintenance, hangar rental and flight instruction in three Florida locations — Tallahassee (headquarters), Okaloosa County and Vero Beach — plus Memphis, Atlanta and Albany.
Soon, the company will take on sales and service for Honda Aircraft’s seven-state Southeast region, too. HondaJet Southeast will be housed in a state-of-the-art light jet aircraft showroom that Flightline is building at Tallahassee Regional Airport. Aircraft deliveries are expected to begin from the new 5,000-square-foot, $8-million facility in 2010.
Locating HondaJet Southeast in Tallahassee makes sense, says Flightline’s Chairman and CEO Paul “Mac” Langston, because it’s convenient to most Southern markets and there’s plenty of available airspace. “There aren’t really any other dealerships I know of out there where you can pull up and buy a jet.”
A Capitol Site: Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee, has long been known for its Southern charm and vibrant lifestyle, propelled, in part, by three institutions of higher education: Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and Tallahassee Community College.
Adding Jobs: GT Technologies, a $60-million automotive systems manufacturer, is growing its business in Leon County, creating nearly 150 new jobs and directing $30 million in capital improvements toward the expansion of its production facility, a development expected to have a $70.5-million economic impact on the county, including about $16 million in payroll.
Right Location: Directly adjacent to Leon County, Jefferson is ideally positioned to serve as a bedroom community for Tallahassee workers seeking wide-open spaces. An 1890s-era opera house in Monticello has been renovated. This two-story building houses a rentable banquet hall facility on the ground floor and a near-perfect acoustical theatre on its second floor.
Jackson, liberty & Walton Counties
It’s All About the Green: A decision in 2007 by Green Circle Bio-Energy to build a $100-million, 300,000-square-foot wood pellet plant — the world’s largest — in Cottondale has invigorated Jackson County and the surrounding area. Officials of the company, which is a subsidiary of Sweden/JCE Group AB, chose the site for its abundance of Southern yellow pine. The plant produced its first pellets in April 2008; ultimately, plans call for a production capacity of 560,000 tons of pellets per year, which will be exported to Europe through the Port of Panama City, and an estimated 150 additional jobs in Jackson and nearby counties.
Sam Hatcher, president of Liberty Industries and a native of Liberty County, has plans to build a $50-million ethanol energy plant at a yet-to-be-determined Liberty County site that will turn forest waste products — the tops, limbs and barks off pine trees that have already been cut — into 7 million gallons of ethanol annually. A $4-million “Farm to Fuel” grant is helping to offset the costs of the project, which will break ground in summer 2009.
With its abundance of pine, Liberty County offers plenty of feedstock for the plant, Hatcher says, as well as solid transportation options for moving his finished product to gas storage blending facilities in Jacksonville or Pensacola via AN and CSX railway tracks. “Liberty County has excellent rail access,” says Hatcher. “Excellent.”
Hatcher’s goal for the plant is to double or triple its ethanol capacity within the first three years. Ultimately, he hopes to produce 70 million gallons of ethanol annually from his Liberty County facility.
Gulf Coast Energy of Walton LLC has received a $7-million “Fuel to Farm” grant, which will be used toward construction of a tandem biodiesel and ethanol production facility at Mossy Head in Walton County. The $62-million plant will be built at the Northwest Florida Commerce Park; actual production of biodiesel is expected by the end of 2008 and of ethanol in early 2009.
Seaside in Walton County helped launch the “New Urbanist” movement.