Updated 4 yearss ago
By Julie S. Bettinger
Business travelers in northwest Florida have grown frustrated with limited service and expensive fares for airline service to and from the area. There's no jet service, for example, between Florida's capital city and either Tampa or Jacksonville. Neither the Tallahassee nor Pensacola airports generate the passenger traffic that prompts airlines to offer more -- and cheaper -- non-stop flights, and companies in the region have begun looking for alternatives.
Mike Koski, vice president of Trow Engineering Consultants Inc. in Tallahassee, crunched the numbers and concluded his company would do better if it bought its own plane. The productivity gains from spending less time at airports and the revenue the plane would generate by chartering it would outweigh the maintenance, insurance, parking and pilot costs. "We're in consulting engineering, so we're in the business of selling time," he says. "Sitting in an airport is not a chargeable activity."
Trow's calculations show how inconvenience is expensive. If one of Trow's engineers travels to Lakeland on a commercial flight, he has to stop in Orlando on his way to Tampa, then rent a car. The cost: at least $224, if a flight is available. Total time invested, one way, is five hours, minimum. At Trow's consulting rate of up to $150 an hour, the trip gets expensive. And forget getting back the same day.
Koski looked at the same scenario with a corporate plane, figuring costs of $285 an hour: The company can make the two-hour trip "on demand," arriving by 8 a.m. and leaving by 5 p.m., saving on hotel and meals, and the flying hours are 100% productive.
More businesses in northwest Florida are doing the same math. Danny Langston, vice president of FlightLine Group Inc. in Tallahassee, says the company's corporate aircraft sales have almost doubled in the last year. At the 750,000-sq.-ft. general aviation facility the company built in 1994, fuel sales are up; hangar space is at a premium or non-existent; there's an increased demand for pilots; training has multiplied; and the company has had to add three more employees to the maintenance shop.
Meanwhile, Pensacola Aviation Center doubled the size of its facility in 1998, and President Dick Bennett says the growth in traffic -- up nearly 10% in recent years -- shows no signs of slowing.
Tallahassee-based Figg Engineering has tried ownership and commercial. President Gene Figg says the time savings and quality-of-life factors of ownership are difficult to ignore. Even better: "Your luggage is always with you."
In the News
Escambia County -- Champion International Corp.'s Cantonment paper mill has been slapped with another lawsuit -- this time by a 75-year-old woman seeking damages since the last suit was settled in 1996. Unable to meet state water-quality standards, Champion has used a temporary operating permit and consent orders since 1989 to keep dumping 24-million gallons of wastewater into Eleven Mile Creek each day. The creek empties into Perdido Bay; both have been listed among the dirtiest waterways in the state. In 1996, the company agreed to pay $5 million to settle a suit with nearly 2,000 property owners along the two waterways to make up for lost property values.
Jefferson County -- Martin Electronics Inc. plans to expand and add another 15 jobs by the end of the year. The move will follow the company's introduction of an improved security device for banks. The company's main facility is in neighboring Taylor County, where it owns 30 buildings on 1,040 acres. Last year's sales exceeded $25 million.
Restarting a power plant that has been closed for five years might seem like good news to many rural communities, but Jefferson County isn't so sure. The Drifton-based Biomass Plant, owned by Jefferson Power LFC, burns waste materials such as cardboard and plastics to generate electricity. By-products, however, include black smoke and a foul odor. When the company launched its plans to reopen, the county commission proposed a foul-odor ordinance that could levy fines if certain standards aren't met. Jefferson Power is considering litigation.
Liberty County -- Two-thirds of Liberty County voters voted in favor of a referendum allowing county commissioners to grant a new or expanding business a tax break. The timing of the measure was apt: The county's vast timber resources are in need of a harvester since the Port St. Joe paper mill, Florida Coast Paper Co., suspended operations last year.
Between 75 and 80 jobs are being created with the opening of the Juvenile Justice Center in Liberty this summer. The state Department of Juvenile Justice has renovated a facility that used to house the mentally disabled and is seeking a private provider to fill positions.
Madison County -- Retired Air Force examiner Joe Boyles, a member of the family-owned Boyles Tree Farm, is the new Madison County Chamber executive director. Boyles says he wants to capitalize on eco-tourism opportunities.
Pensacola -- In response to a judge's ruling calling the state's publicly funded school voucher program unconstitutional, billionaire financier Ted Forstmann says he'll put up an estimated $185,000 to keep 52 Pensacola students in private schools next year.
Forstmann is known for his generosity when it comes to schoolchildren. Along with Wal-Mart heir John Walton, Forstmann helped start a nationwide scholarship program for needy children, called the Children's Scholarship Fund.
One of Escambia County's largest private employers is adding 75 positions at its Pensacola distribution center. Grocery Supply Co. Southeast, a major supplier to military commissaries, consolidated its Sanford operation and created warehouse, truck-driving and other positions ranging in pay from $35,000 to $45,000. The consolidation will increase overall volume of Pensacola shipments by 43%.
Quincy -- After 41 years in operation, Weavexx Corp. has announced it will shut down its plant. A leading manufacturer of textiles and papermakers, Weavexx is phasing out Quincy operations and moving the jobs to its headquarters in Wake Forest, N.C. The move means a loss of 85 area jobs.
Tallahassee -- An e-commerce company that moved here from Albany, Ga., in January has grown from seven employees to more than 30. 1webPlace.net is filling high-tech positions with average pay that exceeds the county's median salary by 20%. The company operates rent-free at Tallahassee Community College until it builds its headquarters at Summit East, a new high-tech park.