Alternative fuels and steady growth keep Northwest Florida's economy humming.
Holmes & Washington Counties
Incentives Available: Bordering on the Alabama state line to its north, Holmes County offers a 20-square-mile Enterprise Zone divided into three non-contiguous areas covering Bonifay, Ponce de Leon and Esto. Businesses that elect to locate within this zone may be eligible to receive sales tax refunds for building materials and business machines and equipment as well as property tax credits for new jobs.
Room to Grow: Construction on a $9.2-million multi-lane highway project is slated for completion by summer 2009. The project includes expanding State Road 79 to four lanes and adding paved shoulders. A 40-foot-wide median, upgraded drainage facilities and turn lanes also are part of the project. SR 79 is the north/south route from Panama City Beach to Washington and Holmes counties, and is a major thoroughfare for visitors traveling to and from the Gulf beaches.
Hospital Opening: Gulf County residents will have easy access to medical treatment once the new $30-million Sacred Heart Hospital opens in January 2009. The new hospital sits on 30 acres of land and includes 25 private rooms, an emergency department, ICU and two operating rooms. Also available: an urgent care clinic to treat minor illnesses and injuries; laboratory services; diagnostic imaging services such as CT scans, X-ray, ultrasound and mammography; an office building for 10 physicians, a helipad for trauma arrivals; and parking for 370 vehicles. Working alongside the Gulf County Health Department and County Commission, The St. Joe Company donated land and $1 million for site preparation, plus $5 million over 10 years to help bring the hospital plan to fruition.
Growing Community: WindMark Beach, a 2,020-acre residential and resort community planned by The St. Joe Company, is in Phase 2 of construction. Many of the shops at the community’s Village Center will be open for business by fall 2008, along with a meeting hall, fitness center and several restaurants. More than half of the proposed three-and-a-half-mile BeachWalk, which includes an interconnecting boardwalk for the individual properties, is complete. The community is located two miles north of Port St. Joe and 22 miles west of Apalachicola.
Practicing What You Preach
Garlick Environmental Associates Inc. specializes in ecological and archaeological assessment. Now, after more than 25 years of advising clients on how their proposed developments would impact the environment, company founder Dan Garlick has decided it’s time to lessen his own firm’s environmental footprint.
In summer 2008, Garlick completed construction on a new Franklin County headquarters complex, which includes 3,400 square feet of office space and a 6,400-square-foot hangar at the Apalachicola Regional Airport. The primary source of power for the new facilities is solar, generated by a 25-kilowatt photovoltaic roof-mounted system.
A grant from the Florida Department of Transportation funded part of the $850,000 project; Garlick kicked in the rest. The new facility will house both of Garlick’s former Franklin County offices under one roof; the company’s other two offices — in Tallahassee and Panama City — will remain open. To further conserve on energy, Garlick has purchased an electric car, which will be used by the corporate headquarters in Franklin.
Distinctive Sites: Apalachicola, in Franklin County, was chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of its “2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations.” And no wonder. This picturesque beach town boasts beautifully restored hotels, a waterfront busy with fishing vessels, eclectic shops and streets lined with more than 900 structures listed in its National Register Historic District.
In addition to Apalachicola and the spectacular St. George Island, Franklin County is known for its bountiful seafood industry; 90% of Florida oysters are taken from Franklin County waters.
Leavins Seafood, an oyster processing company launched here in 1972, is making another multi-million dollar expansion, which includes a new refrigeration plant, says company co-founder Alice Leavins, who has worked alongside husband Grady, to build this business. Leavins Seafood now employs more than 75 people with drivers delivering to wholesale food distributors from Key West to California.
Opening in fall 2008 in Franklin is a new K-12 school to serve the entire county. The $51-million facility includes a technology hub, state-of-the-art security system, science labs, wellness/training center, culinary arts program and 1,000-seat cafeteria/auditorium. The 109-acre complex replaces all former educational facilities in the county.
Educational Opportunity: In June 2008, Okaloosa Walton College in Niceville joined eight other Florida community colleges in a pilot program to create a new state college system in Florida. On July 8, OWC’s board of trustees officially renamed the school Northwest Florida State College.
The new college system law, which allows two-year institutions in Florida to offer four-year degrees, is aimed at increasing access to higher education for more students. OWC was accredited to offer bachelor’s degrees in 2004 and already had baccalaureate programs in project management and nursing. In addition to these, Northwest Florida State College will offer bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and middle grades math and science education beginning in fall 2008.