FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business


Northwest Florida

Tallahassee
Florida's capital city Tallahassee boasts two public universities, a highly educated workforce and a growing R&D sector. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]

Northwest Florida's abundant pine forests, meandering rivers, natural springs, sugar white beaches and nearly year-round sunshine have long made this region a favorite destination for visitors. Along with a thriving tourism economy, the 16-county region is also home to strong aviation/aerospace and defense sectors and a burgeoning market for research and development.

And this region is growing by leaps and bounds. U.S. Census data shows that seven Northwest Florida counties grew 15% between 2000 and 2010; Santa Rosa, Walton and Wakulla swelled by 25%.

Affordability may well be the reason. Most housing in the region is priced below the state's median home value of $211,300. And Northwest Florida's population is younger than in many other regions in Florida, which translates into a ready and growing workforce adept at using the latest technologies.

Who Lives Here

Northwest Florida has a labor force of more than 661,000. It is home to four of the state's 20 MSAs, including Florida's capital city, Tallahassee. The area also boasts bustling urban centers like Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City.

Military personnel: Approximately 40,000 well-trained military personnel. Some 8,000 retire or resign from military service to enter the region's workforce each year — many of them with advanced technical training and highly desired industry credentials.

Students: 60,000-plus students in the region's eight colleges and universities, including Florida State University, Florida A&M University and the University of West Florida.

A growing creative class: In Tallahassee — Florida's state capital and the region's largest city — the share of the workforce with college degrees is almost double the national average.

Northwest Florida: At A Glance
Northwest Florida
Demographics for the Northwest Region can be found at
Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.
Regional Assets

Universities/Colleges
• Chipola College
• Florida A&M University
• Florida State University
• Gulf Coast State College
• Northwest Florida State College
• Pensacola State College
• Tallahassee Community College
• University of West Florida

Airports
• Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport
• Northwest Florida Regional Airport
• Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport
• Tallahassee Regional Airport

Seaports
• Port Panama City
• Port of Pensacola
• Port St. Joe

» Next page: Northwest Florida's economic life, quality of life and notable employers

Port Panama City
Port Panama City expects to increase its cargo tonnage to an annual level of 2.4 million tons within five years. [Photo: Port Panama City]

Economic Life

Aviation/Aerospace/ Defense

» Seven Air Force and Navy installations make this area a natural hub for aviation, aerospace and defense companies. Excluding military personnel, some 37,000 private-sector jobs in this region are associated with aerospace and defense. In fiscal year 2010, the U.S. Air Force alone contracted $473.1 million with Northwest Florida firms.

R&D Infrastructure

» The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory — home to the world's largest and highest-powered magnet and a joint venture of the National Science Foundation and Florida State University — draws interest from international scientists specializing in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology and biomedicine.

» Researchers at the Pensacola-based Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System affiliated with several Florida universities, explore synergies between humans and machines in order to leverage and extend human capabilities. Active research areas include knowledge modeling and sharing, robotics, computer-mediated learning systems and work practice simulation.

Logistics

» Businesses here enjoy proximity to key Southeastern growth markets via an interconnected network of highways, railroads and shipping lines. In recent years, Port Panama City has invested more than $50 million in new facilities and equipment and has committed to another $35 million in improvements over the next five years. Foreign Trade Zones here, and at the Port of Pensacola, facilitate global commerce.

Quality of Life

Community Maritime Park
Above: Community Maritime Park is home field for Minor League Baseball's Pensacola Blue Wahoos beginning in 2012.
Below: Paddle up the lazy Wakulla River -- one of the many things to see and do in Northwest Florida.
[Photo: Visit Tallahassee]
Wakulla River

Welcome home: The hallmarks of Southern charm — live oaks, Spanish moss and magnolias — along shady urban streets and in rural communities beckon new arrivals to Northwest Florida's welcoming lifestyle. The award-winning sugar sand beaches of the Gulf coast also are a big draw.

Easy access: The opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in 2010 made getting where you want to go easier than ever. The $318-million facility is the first international airport to be built in the United States in more than a decade.

Recreation aplenty: The region's superior climate lends itself to year-round golfing, fishing and boating. Foodies are drawn to Apalachicola in Bay County for the native oysters and other "fruits" of the sea at Florida's oldest maritime event, the Florida Seafood Festival. Arts enthusiasts especially enjoy the concerts, operas, Broadway-style musicals and other events at the historic Saenger Theatre in Pensacola. Sports fans can catch fall football action on Saturdays at Florida State University where the nationally ranked Seminoles do battle on the gridiron against visiting college teams.

Notable Employers

Renewable Energy and Environment

  • GE Pensacola
  • Green Circle Bio Energy Inc., Cottondale
  • Gulf Power and LFG Technologies Development, Perdido Key

Aviation/Aerospace/Defense

  • BAE Systems Inc., Fort Walton Beach
  • The Boeing Company, Eglin Air Force Base
  • DeTect Inc., Panama City
  • DRS Defense Solutions, Fort Walton Beach

Manufacturing

  • Coast Water Efficient Technology (Coast WET), Panama City Beach
  • Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City
  • Mowrey Elevator Company Inc., Marianna
  • Quincy Joist Company, Quincy
  • WestPoint Home Inc., Chipley

Health Sciences

  • Actigraph, Pensacola
  • The Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, Gulf Breeze
  • Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory and the Naval Operational Medical Institute, Pensacola

Research and Development

  • Applied Research Associates, divisions in Niceville and Panama City Beach
  • Bing Energy, Tallahassee
  • The Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion, Tallahassee