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Northwest Florida Business Briefs - Oct. 2006

CENTURY --
? Florida will get its only catfish-processing plant in May. Former Georgia plant operator Godwin Onohwosa has purchased 10 acres in Century Industrial Park for the $6-million facility. North Escambia County farmers, who raise catfish on about 500 acres, have to ship to out-of-state processors.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY --
? The merger of Escambia County Employees Credit Union and Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union, expected by year-end, will create a company with assets of more than $330 million, operating under the Gulf Winds name. Combined membership tops 37,000.

FORT WALTON BEACH --
? City officials are sending letters to landlords and businesses reminding them that it's illegal to rent to or hire illegal immigrants.

FREEPORT --
? A 3,685-acre portion of the Nokuse Plantation has been placed on the 2006 Florida Forever land acquisition list for inclusion in the Northwest Florida Greenway, a military and conservation corridor connecting Eglin Air Force Base to the Apalachicola National Forest. Businessman M.C. Davis, who assembled the 53,000-acre Nokuse conservation area, previously has sold conservation easements totaling more than 20,000 acres to Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Last year, Davis sold 17,000 acres to the state for $17.2 million.

LEON COUNTY --
? The county is trading its Jeep Cherokees for Escape hybrids. It is also exploring using landfill methane gas as a fuel source and may consider offering tax and fee rebates to residents who buy hybrids. County commissioners are also considering offering incentives to developers to build subdivisions promoting energy conservation and better air quality.

NORTHWEST FLORIDA --
? Atlanta-based home builder Beazer Homes USA has agreed to buy 681 Florida home sites from St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE), including 420 in Panama City Beach and 82 at Southwood in Tallahassee, along with 179 at DeLand. St. Joe says the two companies have entered into a long-term relationship under which Beazer Homes will build and market homes on St. Joe sites.

? The Florida Building Commission has approved a building code for the Panhandle calling for wind-resistant construction in areas likely to receive 130- mph winds, which the commission says would cover 85% of current construction. Panhandle counties previously were exempt from the Florida code's wind- Business briefs protection measures except for areas within one mile of the coast.

OKALOOSA COUNTY --
? The U.S. Air Force's announcement of a substitute mission for the 33rd Fighter Wing will likely mean fewer additional personnel than expected based on earlier Base Realignment and Closure Commission decisions. The Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center, being assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, will train pilots to fly F-35s, a new assignment that will transform the Fighter Wing combat unit rather than bring in a new training unit. Another recently proposed shift still unresolved would move the 46th Test Wing to California, which would cost the area 3,400 military and civilian jobs.

PENSACOLA--
? Local designers and developers have lead roles in the Donald Trump-planned Trump International Hotel and Tower for New Orleans. Businessman Cliff Mowe and developer David Brannen are development partners in Poydras LLC, which owns the project, and, along with other west Florida investors, have majority financial interest. Adache Group Architects' Pensacola staff is designing the tower. At 68 stories, the building will be Louisiana's tallest.

? Gulfport, Miss.-based Hancock Bank has opened a Pensacola branch, the first of three planned for the Pensacola metropolitan area, as it begins moving westward from its five-branch foothold in Tallahassee. The bank is looking for other opportunities, especially in metropolitan Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties, says Marty Stubblefield, Hancock Bank of Florida market president.

? Ted Brown, president of Brown Marine Service, and his wife, Kathy Horton- Brown, pledged $500,000 toward the Admiral John H. Fetterman State of Florida Maritime Museum and Research Center, to be operated by the University of West Florida. Also, Skip Hunter, former owner of First National Life Insurance Co., and his wife, Martha Ann, will donate $1 million for an orchestra band shell at the proposed Community Maritime Park. Both gifts are expected to be matched by the state.