Florida's Northwest grows new business on solid military, aviation and tourism roots
The cultural landscape of the 16-county Northwest region manages to retain its color and charm while the region also earns top-gun rankings in defense and aerospace, educational leadership and white-sands tourism. Northwest Florida is home to the U.S. Air Force’s largest air base and the only high-magnetic field laboratory in the Western Hemisphere, not to mention luxury resorts and progressive new-town communities.
Until the late 1990s, timber, fishing and textiles ruled the economy here; today’s core businesses are retail, construction and tourism. And the strongest gains are in aerospace, information technology, biomedicine, international commerce and alternative energy.
Helping growth happen in this region is an ample stock of logistical essentials: interstate highways, cross-regional and short-line rail, and four regional airports, plus two deepwater ports and a third undergoing redevelopment.
Panama City/ Bay County
Ready for Takeoff
Panama City-Bay County’s new super-sized airport is poised for takeoff; construction is slated to begin in late 2007. The $331-million international airport will be located at West Bay on 4,000 acres donated by Florida’s largest private landowner, The St. Joe Company. Plans for residential, industrial and commercial development adjacent to the airport promise to add business, jobs and tax benefits, according to airport authority chairman Joe Tannehill.
Traffic at Port Panama City logged a 57% gain in 2006. Beginning in 2008, the port will be handling some 300,000 tons per year of compressed wood pellets bound for Europe from Green Circle Bio Energy Inc.
Panama City Beach, a perennial favorite for vacationers, continues to attract new resorts. The latest is Splash, a luxury condominium resort by The Sterling Companies that has been named one of this year’s hot new beach resorts by Florida Travel & Life.
Making military connections
When EDO Corporation made a strategic decision in 2005 to open a mine warfare center, the New York City company opted to locate the facility in Panama City close to its customer, the U.S. Navy. The center designs and delivers undersea systems for mine warfare and littoral combat ship systems. Employment, which stood at 105 midyear, is expected to grow by 15 to 20 before the end of 2007, says Director of Operations Matt Miller: “The Florida lifestyle and climate — it’s what we offer our employees, 20% of whom are from out-of-state. I think this is the best place to live in the world.”