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Northwest - Yearbook

Escambia County entered 2011 in recovery mode from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the recession. There are promising signs: A new, $316-million wastewater treatment plant now operates far from the waterfront, and new leaders are in place for the city, county and chamber of commerce.

Florida's Nortwest Region

NORTHWEST FLORIDA GOALS

> Work together to bring more businesses to Santa Rosa and Escambia counties.

> Increase energy efficiency in the county's buildings and vehicle fleet.

> Settle with BP and make sure the region's beaches are clean.

Jobs
MSA DEC. 2010 DEC 2009 % Change Jobless Rate
Fort Walton/ Crestview/ Destin 88,935 88,382 +0.6% 8.3%
Panama City/ Lynn Haven/ Panama City Beach 79,877 78,739 +1.4% 11.6%
Pensacola/ Ferry Pass/ Brent 189,667 188,066 +0.9% 10.7%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes Single-family, existing-home sales by Realtors
MSA Jan. 2011 Sales 1-Year Change Jan. 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Walton Beach 194 +36% $173,300 -14%
Panama City 86 +21% $150,000 -6%
Pensacola 215 +37% $146,100 +2%
Source: Florida Realtors

Escambia Population: 308,486
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.48%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.5% 6.9% 28.3% 31.0% 15.3%
Per Capita Income: $35,008

Cascade Park
Pensacola: County, city and civilian leaders made two giant steps to take back their downtown waterfront. The removal of the 73-year-old county sewage treatment plant from its downtown site cleared the way for business and community development, led by the start of construction on the long-delayed $52-million Community Maritime Park (which Mayor Ashton Hayward overlooks, above). The 30-acre park will provide a stadium for a Double-A baseball team, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, starting in April 2012, and will also contain an amphitheater, public marina, waterfront park, plus space for on-site commercial development. [Photo: BPM]

PensacolA / ESCAMBIA County

batterStepping up to the Plate

> ROOKIE PLAYER: Compass Solar Energy — Compass Solar, providing solar power for schools and military bases, was formed after three entrepreneurs combined their solar companies into one, morphing from mainly residential and pool heating to large-scale solar electric power generation. "We've quickly expanded nationally and expect to be around $4 million in net sales this year, twice 2010," says Dan Gardner, Compass co-owner with brother Sean and Scott Arnold. Last year, 70% of sales were to the military; 50% of sales overall were in Florida. "Our biggest contract so far is at Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, which could amount to 25-30 buildings."

> EMERGING STAR: IMS ExpertServices — IMS connects expert witnesses with the lawyers who need them. Its three-year, 130% growth marks its emergence as the top provider of expert witnesses in complex litigation. The company expects to grow 20% to 30% this year. "Our cases range from financial services to pharmaceutical formulations to technology disputes and everything in between," says CEO Mike Wein. IMS has 42 employees, most at its Pensacola headquarters; branch offices are in New York, Denver and Atlanta.

> HEAVY HITTER: Pensacola Naval Air Station — Salaries for the 23,000 military personnel and contract employees, plus purchases by the base, amounted to $1.3 billion in 2010, up $100 million from the year before. This year, the base — the nation's oldest naval aviation facility — will help celebrate naval aviation's centennial. In 1911, the Navy approved the purchase of two stick-and-fabric flying machines that landed at what was then called the Navy Yard, prompting its christening as the "Cradle of Naval Aviation." Base construction projects for 2010-11 total some $70 million and include modernization of one of the original aviation-era buildings, for NAS headquarters.

playersImpact Players

> Ashton Hayward, mayor, Pensacola — Elected Pensacola's first "strong mayor" under the city's first constitutional revision since 1931, Ashton Hayward has a vision for Pensacola that is framed by his City Hall view of the waterfront. "Look at this bay; it's one of the prettiest in the world. This place has got what you want where you live. We want people and businesses to move to our area."

Gerald Hoewing
Gerald Hoewing
> Gerald Hoewing, president/CEO, Naval Aviation Museum Foundation — The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation is the fundraiser for the museum, which drew 715,000 visitors last year, and for its National Flight Academy. The $35-million flight academy, to open May 2012, "will be a best-in-the-world facility, a science, technology, engineering and math program for seventh through 12th grade, where they will learn no-kidding STEM in a fun environment," says retired Vice Adm. Gerald Hoewing.

> Howard Liebman, CEO/founder, Smart Horizons Career Online Education —

Howard Liebman
Howard Liebman
Howard Liebman is providing students returning to the education process an opportunity to earn a high school diploma via the internet. His Smart Horizons Career Online Education, launched in 2009, has received accreditation from the AdvancED/SACS Accreditation Commission as the world's first online school district. Liebman, who has a doctorate in education, is a third-generation public education professional and also was co-founder in 2004 of a college preparatory online high school in Miami.

Panama City/Bay County

Bay Population: 169,835
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.99%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.9% 5.8% 26.7% 33.5% 15.1%
Per Capita Income: $36,805

Business Facilities magazine ranked Panama City first in growth potential among small metro areas, and AOL Travel has spotlighted Panama City Beach among this year's top 10 budget travel destinations. Those recognitions may owe much to the completion of the $318-million Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. Panama City BeachThe airport is the centerpiece of the 75,000-acre West Bay Sector, a portion of which is planned for industrial development by the St. Joe Co., which has relocated its headquarters to the site. The airport itself is being well-received by travelers: The December passenger count was nearly three times that of the same month a year ago. While the recession hurt some businesses at Panama City Beach, the real spoiler was the perceived impact of the oil spill, says Dan Rowe, executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council — noting that recent visitor numbers are up: "The beach is bouncing back."

Apalachicola/ Franklin County

Franklin Population: 11,535
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.58%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
14.1% 4.5% 28.3% 35.1% 18.0%
Per Capita Income: $30,481

"First, the housing collapse knocked us down and then the oil spill," says Alan Pierce, Franklin County director of administrative services and county economic development. Franklin is one of seven Gulf coastal counties most impacted by the oil spill, which affected both tourism and seafood industries, says Pierce. On the positive side: The county this month is completing construction of a $1-million hangar at the Apalachicola/Franklin general aviation airport. The 10,000-sq.-ft. building also has office space.

Fort Walton/Okaloosa County

Okaloosa Population: 183,221
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.32%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
19.5% 6.1% 27.5% 32.7% 14.3%
Per Capita Income: $42,733

Strong growth is forecast for Okaloosa County, sparked by two major military moves — the 8,000-plus population surge under way from the relocation of the Army's 7th Special Forces and the buildup of Joint Strike Fighter training operations.

Rick Harper
Rick Harper
In addition, Vision Airlines has decided to make Northwest Florida Regional Airport a 20-market Southeast hub, a further boost for tourism. Also contributing to the economic outlook are runway improvements and Qwest Air Parts' tenancy at Crestview Bob Sikes Airport, plus expansions by military-support businesses. The county could see normal 10-year growth achieved in the next two years, predicts University of West Florida economist Rick Harper.

Jackson/Liberty/ Calhoun Counties

Jackson Population: 51,634
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 1.34%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.6% 5.7% 28.7% 32.7% 16.3%
Per Capita Income: $25,844

Jackson County's economic base has been largely stable during the recession, aided by major recently added employers, including Green Circle Bio Energy at Cottondale, says Bill Stanton, executive director of the county Development Council. The county's tax base has gained 10% in value in the past five years, he notes.

Liberty Population: 8,428
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 1.96%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.4% 5.3% 34.4% 30.6% 11.2%
Per Capita Income: $25,089
Johnny Eubanks
Johnny Eubanks

Liberty County consistently boasts the state's lowest unemployment rate, mainly because of the stable forest products industry, a state correctional facility and its north-south short line railroad, says Johnny Eubanks, executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.

Calhoun Population: 14,087
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 1.04%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.6% 4.9% 31.0% 30.9% 15.6%
Per Capita Income:$23,716
Kristy Terry
Kristy Terry

Government budget cuts and shortfalls have constrained Calhoun County's economy; several businesses opened late in the year, however, in hopes of an economic uptick in 2011, says Kristy Terry, executive director of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. Development work under way includes a runway extension at Calhoun County Airport.

Holmes/Washington Counties

Holmes Population: 19,682
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.73%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.3% 5.8% 28.2% 31.8% 16.9%
Per Capita Income: $28,605

Washington Population: 24,846
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 2.08%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.0% 5.9% 27.1% 34.2% 15.2%
Per Capita Income: $24,781

Both Washington and Holmes are courting industrial prospects. In Washington, the county and CSX are building a dual-use rail spur, funded with $2 million from the state Transportation Department. The spur was key to enticing a concrete pipe-making company to become the first tenant in a county-owned industrial park. In Holmes, Bud Riviere, a member of the county's Development Commission, cites a prospect interested in buying a spec building and the opening of restaurants and hotels. Critical to future growth will be completion of Highway 79's four-laning, connecting to the new Bay County airport, says Jim Brook, the commission's executive director.

Walton COUNTY

Walton Population: 59,512
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 3.06%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.0% 5.3% 25.5% 35.4% 16.8%
Per Capita Income: $28,976

Tourism took an 8% tumble in 2010, attributed to negative oil spill publicity, but investments in accommodations are up for 2011, including the start of the beachside Hotel Viridian and the opening of the hotel's V restaurant. Away from the beach, the county is working on master planning the 315-acre Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Mossy Head and marketing the 26-acre developable portion of the county industrial park at Freeport. The county is also updating its master plan for DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport to add corporate space and extend the runway to 5,000 feet.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY

Santa Rosa Population: 163,042
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 2.49%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.8% 6.4% 26.5% 35.2% 13.2%
Per Capita Income: $32,712

More than 1,100 jobs were added in the county last year, led by the opening of GEO Group's Blackwater River Correctional Facility, with 350 employees, and a 500-employee expansion at Clearwire's call center. Business newcomers included Avalex Technologies, moving from Pensacola, and Frama-Tech, which relocated its headquarters from Los Angeles. Overall, unemployment dipped and building permits increased. While bed-tax revenue dropped 13.9% for the year, new tourism lures weren't lacking, notes Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Kate Wilkes. The Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, the longest on the Gulf, was completed; the Gulf Breeze Zoo reopened; and Adventures Unlimited mounted a zip line.

GULF COUNTY

Gulf Population: 16,066
Population Growth Rate (2007-11): 0.48%
Population by Age:
0-14
15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
12.3% 4.9% 31.1% 35.5% 16.2%
Per Capita Income: $26,391

County officials are working to put the port back in Port St. Joe and to facilitate the startup of the proposed Northwest Florida Renewable Energy Center. Both projects are in the permitting process. The port is planned to have two adjacent sites: The barge site now ready for use by industrial customers and the deepwater site, awaiting final permit approval. Both tourism and fishing were affected by the oil spill, says Tom Graney, chairman of the Gulf County Economic Development Council, adding, "We're looking for new economic developments in 2011."