The Chipola Regional Workforce Development Board in Blountstown will oversee distribution of the money to the businesses, which pledge to expand current operations and to take on WAGES clients. David Belanger's company, River Valley Foods, in Blountstown, says his $145,000 grant will go toward adding other freshwater fish to his seafood processing facility, which he took over last year from PRIDE Enterprises, the St. Petersburg-based organization that employs prison inmates. He says the money and the additional business will create nearly 40 new jobs, nearly all of them WAGES hires. Joe Busby of Chipley-based Gulf Kist Producers, which grows and packages peanuts and soybeans, says his $500,000 grant will be used to open three more plants. "I expect to hire about 200 of the WAGES clients," he says.
The program is not a handout from the state, according to Freida Sheffield, director of the Chipola board. "These businesses have to perform or they don't get paid," she says. Since it started overseeing the local WAGES program, the board has trimmed the five-county area's welfare rolls by nearly 70% in two years. The area had 1,456 recipients on the rolls in September 1996. "Now, we've got only 448," Sheffield says. - Matt Moore
SPORTS TALK - The name of the game in northwest Florida is minor league sports. The Eastern Coast Hockey League (ECHL) has two teams in the region, the Pensacola Ice Pilots and the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that compete every fall and winter. The Ice Pilots are defending champions of the ECHL's Southern Conference. Sheilah Bowman, director of the Pensacola Convention and Visitors Bureau, says: "With the Ice Pilots, we have a more-rounded tourism destination during the off-season."
Meanwhile, America's pastime is coming to Tallahassee now that local businessman DeVoe Moore has signed a contract moving the Orlando Devil Rays, a double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, to the state capital. Moore will pay for a multimillion dollar, 6,500-seat stadium at Mahan Drive near Interstate 10, where the team will begin play in 2000. He hopes to profit from stadium and parking revenues.
DESTIN - The Howard Group, developer of Silver Sands Factory Stores, plans to add 330,000 square feet of shopping space. Presently, 102 retailers occupy 370,135 square feet.
FORT WALTON BEACH - County commissioners gave the Okaloosa-Walton Regional Airport thumbs up to build a second story on the existing airport, more than doubling its size to 81,000-square feet, and to add more parking.
JACKSON COUNTY - Voters approved a referendum that lets county government offer 10-year tax exemptions to companies that pledge to build and staff manufacturing facilities. Chiron Corp. could be the first recipient. The company plans to build an executive retreat near Blue Springs that will ultimately employ more than 500 people.
LYNN HAVEN - BSG Laboratories backed out of a plan to build a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing center in the city's commerce park. The city says it will try to recover more than $300,000 in exemptions and engineers fees.
NAVARRE BEACH - Pegasus Development Enterprises will build a pair of six-story condominium resorts here, the first residential developments of this size in Navarre.
MARIANNA - The Ruby Tuesdays and Cracker Barrel chains plan to build restaurants at the Highway 71 exit of Interstate 10 after road expansion from two lanes to four.
PANAMA CITY - Nearly 600 workers returned to Stone Container Corp.'s paper mill after a three-month layoff attributed to weak market conditions. Management warns the return could be short-lived if the global economy doesn't improve. Shareholder approval of the merger between Stone and Jefferson Smurfit was expected November 17.
PORT ST. JOE - The shutdown of Florida Coast Paper's mill will continue well into 1999. More than 500 workers have been laid off since September. The mill is co-owned by Stone Container Corp. of Chicago and Box USA.
TALLAHASSEE- City commissioners are reconsidering growth-management regulations after Watkins Engineers & Contractors, which employs about 200, nearly moved to Gadsden County because city rules governing automobile congestion had prohibited the company from building a new facility. The commission plans to exempt developments of 100 acres or more from the traffic rule.