North Florida Community College hosts the only Cisco Systems training academy in the Deep South.
Nestled in Madison, not too far from Tallahassee and the Georgia line, North Florida Community College (NFCC) serves six, primarily rural, counties -- Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor. With little industry, the area's young people tend to look elsewhere for steady work and good wages, as well as higher education.
NFCC may have found a way to stem the out-migration of twenty-somethings and develop a local workforce attractive to high-tech industry. The college has developed an innovative training program with computer industry giant Cisco Systems.
NFCC President Beverly Grissom and Madison business leaders worked with Cisco to develop practical, hands-on instruction. Now in its second year, the academy, which teaches the fundamentals of computer science and networking technology, has generated more response than expected. "We were hoping for 20 students in the first class; we had 120 clamoring for seats," says Grissom. "We offered triple the number of sections we'd planned."
Credit for the program goes to Tom Moffses, who in 1997 was a newly hired instructor in the computer sciences department. He'd read about Cisco's training academies elsewhere in the U.S. and approached the company.
Moffses says access through Cisco to the latest Internet technologies gives academy students an edge in the job market. One of 31 Cisco academies nationwide, NFCC's program serves all of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. As it grows, it will bring the college money and high-tech equipment to enhance curriculum. That, in turn, will help the area's economic development portfolio, says Grissom. It will also make the graduates more competitive in a computer-driven economy that offers higher wages to technology workers.
"Our students can be competitors in the workplace for the $40,000-a-year jobs" she says. "Our communities can point to business and industry and show that our college can deliver a highly technically trained workforce."
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DeFuniak Springs -- Taylor Made Custom Homes opened a modular home factory that employs 20 and will produce between 60 and 100 homes annually. Unlike mobile homes, modulars don't have wheels and can withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 150 mph.
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Escambia County -- Northwest Florida environmental chief Bobby Cooley denied a request from Anderson Columbia to move a rock crushing operation from Jackson County to the Marcus Pointe area. Cooley cited a history of bad record-keeping at the company, which shut down a rock crushing facility in Bagdad after complaints from neighbors and a state Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit.
The Escambia County Commission will spend $1.9 million to buy a 355-acre tract of land near Cantonment, two miles from the Champion International paper mill. Plans call for building a third industrial park; both Marcus Pointe and Ellyson Industrial Parks are nearly full.
Freeport -- The city will annex 2,200 acres just to its north to draw new industry.
Milton -- The city is raising $10 million to buy the vacant manufacturing facility Vanity Fair Mills once called home. The Alabama-based company shut down the plant this year, leaving 500 out of work.
Panama City -- The aging Hathaway Bridge, which links the city and Panama City Beach, will be replaced. The state Department of Transportation has allocated $86 million for construction of a bridge with two parallel spans; each with three travel lanes, two emergency lanes and bike lanes. The bridge should be finished by 2003.
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Some days it doesn't pay to be the state's largest landowner, particularly if you've got a yearning to put a four-lane highway in Gulf County -- not home to the most trusting souls in Florida anymore. For 60 years, Jacksonville-based St. Joe Co. was the biggest employer in the county, until it sold its paper mill in 1996. The mill is now closed, and St. Joe has reinvented itself with a focus on real estate development. It owns 195,000 acres in Gulf -- more than half of the county -- and residents are leery of St. Joe's intentions. A recent meeting about company plans to four-lane U.S. 98 drew more than 500 residents who poked, prodded and pontificated about what they see as the company's responsibility to generate a new economic base and reduce unemployment caused by the mill shutdown. Chris Corr, vice president of Arvida, St. Joe's development arm, says the company would like to take a 3.8-mile section of the highway and reroute it, ostensibly to provide better access to gulf-front holdings where the company plans an upscale beach resort. Corr maintains St. Joe doesn't have any master plans for Gulf County or Port St. Joe, the county seat. Residents think otherwise: "They say they care about the county and they want to help us, but three years ago they sold out the paper mill at fire-sale prices," says James Oakley, who worked for the mill for 12 years.