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Northwest Florida


Strong business growth and record tourism

Concerns about possible military cutbacks

Pensacola/Escambia County

» Economic improvement projects that have been years in the making came to fruition in Pensacola last year — a $35-million National Flight Academy providing aviation-oriented STEM classes and a $7.7-million reconstruction of the downtown library. The downtown Community Maritime Park and baseball venue was also completed.

»  Leading the recovery: Record tourism (up 10% over the same period a year ago), hospital expansions, growing IT businesses and a lineup of new-business prospects resembling pre-recession levels. Still, unemployment is hovering around 8%, and urban poverty levels are high. “I would venture a third of the employable people in the city are either unemployed or underemployed and in desperate need of entry-level jobs,” says business consultant Jerry Maygarden, a former mayor, state representative and hospital executive. As president of West Florida Historic Preservation, he's promoting development of heritage tourism to provide jobs and foster economic growth. The UWF-affiliated organization owns 8½ acres of historic assets in downtown Pensacola, one of Florida's earliest exploration sites.

Businesses to Watch

Ross Overstreet,
CEO, Overgroup

Mark de Vries,
Landrum Europe

» Overgroup: A software company that works with regional telephone companies to enable customers to activate cell phones and pay bills online, has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. Employment is expected to increase from 25 in January to 35 to 40 by year-end.

» Coastal Machinery: The company's shipments of used construction equipment from the Panhandle to Caribbean nations, including Trinidad and Tobago, and to South America are slowly increasing, accounting for 30% of sales; overall sales were up 10% to 12% last year. Similar growth is expected this year, says President Joe Meeks.

» Landrum Professional Employer Services: The employee outsourcing company, which has a staff of 147, expanded twice last year, teaming with a European company to open Landrum Europe in Almelo, the Netherlands, and acquiring two professional employer organizations in the Carolinas. The latter additions increased worksite employees on payroll to 11,000.

People to Watch



» Sandy Sansing: Sansing, who owns eight auto dealerships, is the 2013 chairman of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. His primary goals include creating 3,000 jobs by 2015, implementing a two-county strategic marketing plan and increasing participation of the chamber's 1,200 members.

» Cindi Bonner: The founder of Fitness Onboard, which provides stand-up paddleboards as exercise platforms, patented her own board, the Fitness Onboard SUP by Dragonfly, and has opened three locations, including a downtown retail shop.

» Jim Barnett, interim CEO of the University of UWF Business Enterprises and associate vice president for facilities at the University of West Florida, is overseeing development of an 18-acre campus center that will have a hotel, conference center, student housing and restaurant/retail space. Construction is projected to start in June with completion scheduled for August 2014.

Escambia Population: 302,758
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.48%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.14% 6.66% 27.61% 32.09% 15.51%
Per Capita Income: $38,372

MSA Dec. 2012 Dec. 2011 % Change Jobless Rate
Fort Walton/Crestview/Destin 92,080 92,736 -0.7% 5.8%
Panama City/Lynn Haven/Panama City Beach 80,172 80,490 -0.4% 8.5%
Pensacola/Ferry Pass/Brent 192,304 190,547 +0.9% 7.8%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2013 Sales 1-Year Change 2013 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Walton Beach 2,698 -3.2% $179,900 +1.1%
Panama City 2,057 +13.9% $148,000 +5.7%
Pensacola 5,379 +11.2% $145,000 +2.8%
Source: Florida Realtors

Fort Walton/Okaloosa County

» “Defense provides strength, IT is providing growth, tourism and health care are doing well,'' says Linda Sumblin, executive director of the Workforce Development Board of Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Among expansions under way: Destin Commons shopping center, adding 100,000 square feet and 20 to 25 new retailers and restaurants.

» Particularly upbeat in manufacturing was L-3 Crestview Aerospace. It plans to hire 182 workers for its 1,000-plus payroll within two years and invest $13.7 million, including $7 million in facilities upgrades. The company has added 158 jobs since June 2011. The plant performs aerostructure fabrication and assembly and aircraft modification.

»  Although Fort Walton Beach, the region's most military-intensive metro area, gained 5.9% in 2011 staffing with the latest round of base realignment and closure, it lost half that gain by December 2012 because of uncertainty over the federal budget — yet to be resolved, says UWF economist Rick Harper. Says Sumblin: “We're holding our breath.''

Okaloosa Population: 186,692
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.76%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.52% 5.87% 27.79% 32.79% 15.04%
Per Capita Income: $43,742


Panama City/Bay County

» “We had a record-breaking year — tourism was up 12% — on top of a record-breaking year,'' says Dan Rowe, president of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

» Anticipating more growth this year, the Bay County Tourism Development Council has funded a $2.6-million amphitheater at Aaron Bessant Park, and St. Joe Co. is partnering with real estate services firm Casto and Strategic Retail Advisors to build Pier Park North, a 398,000-sq.-ft. retail center.

»  Bay County's new international airport and its port are a combination ripe for development, says Stan Connally, CEO of Gulf Power, which recently hired an additional economic development staffer to represent the Bay area. “The whole northwest Florida area is poised to grow our manufacturing sector.”

»  Employment growth in Panama City has been erratic since it came out of recession in early 2010 and is still 6% below its 2006 peak, says UWF economist Rick Harper. There are promising developments, however: iSirona, a medical software development company, increased its workforce from 31 to 105 last year and expects to add 100 employees within three years.

Business to Watch

» DeTect: The radar technology company continues to expand overseas with recent MERLIN bird radar contracts at Nigeria's Abuja Airport and at Warsaw Airport in Poland, the first major European airport to install bird radar technology. Those sales are helping to offset lagging U.S. investment in DeTect's technologies. DeTect also received a $9.5-million contract for a new launch wind measurement radar for the Kennedy Space Center, its largest radar to date.

Bay Population: 173,592
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.90%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.28% 5.53% 26.32% 34.28% 15.57%
Per Capita Income: $39,936

Holmes/Washington Counties

» Manufacturing businesses in Holmes County are maintaining operations, enabling the economy to hold its own, says Opportunity Florida Director Jim Brook, formerly with the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce.

» Holmes and Washington counties are completing new strategic economic development plans. “We see a lot of economic development projects on the horizon,'' says Gary Clark, vice president of membership services at West Florida Electric and chairman of the recently restructured Economic Development Council of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

» Likely to spur growth, says Clark: Four-laning highways 77 and 79 and the presence of landowners with thousands of acres for potential development.

Washington Population: 25,253
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.56%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.35% 5.65% 25.26% 35.34% 16.41%
Per Capita Income: $26,049

Holmes Population: 20,260
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.14%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.03% 5.60% 24.44% 33.97% 17.96%
Per Capita Income: $28,496


Santa Rosa County

» Economic prospects look positive, with four new projects expected to be announced soon that encompass more than 300 jobs, interim economic development director Shannon Ogletree says. Vacant sites created by call center closings are now providing ready industrial space for newcomers.

» Tourism posted a 15% gain. IT firms are growing. AppRiver, a Gulf Breeze internet security company that recently opened an office in Switzerland, was awarded the Governor's Export Excellence Award for 2012.

Santa Rosa Population: 163,636
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 2.28%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.83% 6.39% 25.19% 35.48% 14.11%
Per Capita Income: $38,096


Apalachicola/Franklin County

Reduced water flow of the Apalachicola River and increased salinity recently reduced the bay oyster population to its lowest level in 25 years, resulting in decreased harvest and job losses for area oystermen. Industry and government groups are seeking legislation to reduce Atlanta-area water usage and increase river flow.

»  Tourism numbers were positive for fiscal 2011-12, rising 14%. “Real estate is doing better. Sales of smaller items like books, clothes, food are higher than large items like furniture and art,” says Anita Grove, executive director of Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Franklin Population: 11,931
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.89%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
14.56% 3.85% 27.26% 35.02% 19.32%
Per Capita Income: $31,576

Walton County

» Housing starts regained their 2006 level in 2012, tourism through November was up 18% from the prior year, and the year-end unemployment rate was among the lowest in the state, at 5.7%. A new county administrator was recently hired and a new economic development executive will be added this year.

» Walton County voters approved a half-cent sales tax last year to add a two-lane bridge over the Choctawhatchee Bay and to widen Highway 331, an important link between Interstate 10 and the beaches.

Walton Population: 60,271
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 2.53%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.24% 5.01% 24.09% 35.90% 17.76%
Per Capita Income: $32,625


Gulf County

» The components needed to re-create the port of Port St. Joe are falling into place, says port authority Chairman Leonard Costin. “The St. Joe Co. relooked at its assets — 5,000 acres along the canal — and decided to change their model to development of the port; Genesee & Wyoming Rail is putting up matching funds with St. Joe to bring the rail line up to standards, and the next step is to get dredging on the ship channel to the approved depth,” Costin says.

Gulf Population: 16,016
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.13%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
12.89% 4.28% 28.26% 37.18% 17.38%
Per Capita Income: $28,108


Jackson/Calhoun/Liberty Counties

» Jackson County gained manufacturing jobs when Home Source International announced plans to open a Marianna factory last year, with employment set for 300 by the end of 2015, and through expansion of Mowrey Elevator.

» A theater venue also was added with construction of Chipola Center for the Arts.

» Calhoun County retailers report increased sales, new retailers have opened and some existing businesses have expanded. Construction and real estate sales are also improving.

» Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Johnny Eubanks anticipates announcing a new business later this year that would add numerous jobs. Unemployment continues to remain low.

Jackson Population: 49,922
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): -0.07%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.10% 5.50% 26.60% 35.06% 16.75%
Per Capita Income: $30,814

Calhoun Population: 14,892
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.34%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.31% 5.38% 26.13% 33.72% 16.46%
Per Capita Income: $24,869

Liberty Population: 8,777
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 1.27%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.65% 5.65% 30.23% 35.11% 11.36%
Per Capita Income: $25,000