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Northwest: Striking Gold with Green

Northwest Florida
Demographics for the Northwest Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.

Florida’s Panhandle has long boasted some of the bluest Gulf waters and whitest sugar sand beaches anywhere in the world. These days, there’s a new color in the region’s palate: Green. As Florida moves ahead in reducing greenhouse gases, new opportunities are available for alternative energy production and advanced technology. To help boost this emerging industry sector, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched its “Farm to Fuel” initiative in 2007, a program aimed at getting Florida’s agricultural industry to produce 25% of the state’s energy needs by the year 2025. The first $25 million in “Farm to Fuel” grants was paid out in January 2008; $15 million of the total allotment went to projects/companies in northwest Florida.

Northwest Florida Resources:

• Chipola College
• Florida A&M University
• Florida State University
• Gulf Coast Community College
• Northwest Florida State College
• Pensacola Junior College
• Tallahassee Community College
• University of West Florida

• Okaloosa Regional Airport
• Panama City-Bay County International Airport
• Pensacola Regional Airport
• Tallahassee Regional Airport

• Port Panama City
• Port of Pensacola
• Port St. Joe

Timber has become the “new coal,” which for northwest Florida, with its abundance of pine forests, is good news. Including under story — broken limbs, stumps and branches — this region has between 2 million and 9 million tons of indigenous timber available for alternative energy production.

But that’s just the start of things to like about this region. Northwest Florida is also home to three state universities, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and a heavy military presence. The area’s seven military installations — one naval- and six aviation-related — are a strong draw for aerospace and defense contractors that want to be close to their clients. In northwest Florida, upwards of 37,000 people are employed by the aerospace or defense industry.

Northwest Florida has a solid transportation system, too, including four major commercial airports and three deepwater ports, two of which are designated Foreign Trade Zones.


Incubator opens: The new Gulf Coast Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opened in May 2008 in downtown Pensacola. A joint venture between Pensacola Junior College (PJC) and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, the center is making available 15,000 square feet of space to start-up companies at PJC’s newly renovated downtown center. Blink MD, a Pensacola-based company specializing in electronic medical records and physician management software, is the incubator’s first tenant.

High-tech haven: The city of Pensacola, the Escambia County Board of Commissioners and the Pensacola/Escambia Promotion and Development Commission are teaming up to create a 9.5-acre technology campus in downtown Pensacola. with more than 500,000 square feet of office space for high-tech businesses.

The University of West Florida has broken ground on a four-story, $32-million Science and Engineering building; classes are expected to begin in the new facility in January 2010.

Business Expansions: Paul Life Sciences has begun a $26-million expansion on its Pensacola Membrane Technology Center; the 40,000-square-foot project will increase employment to 200 jobs.

Hixard Technologies Inc. has received an $18.5-million contract to provide software support for Eglin Air Force Base; three software engineers will be added immediately, with 10 to 15 more high-wage jobs ahead.

Prison Break
The cast and crew of FOX TV’s hit show “Prison Break” found the right scenic backdrop for filming at Pensacola Beach. Florida ranks 3rd in the U.S. for film production. [Photo: Brian Smith]

Tallahassee/Leon County

Soaring to New Heights

Founded as an aero-medical company, Flightline Group is today a multi-site corporation offering aircraft sales and maintenance, hangar rental and flight instruction in three Florida locations — Tallahassee (headquarters), Okaloosa County and Vero Beach — plus Memphis, Atlanta and Albany.

Soon, the company will take on sales and service for Honda Aircraft’s seven-state Southeast region, too. HondaJet Southeast will be housed in a state-of-the-art light jet aircraft showroom that Flightline is building at Tallahassee Regional Airport. Aircraft deliveries are expected to begin from the new 5,000-square-foot, $8-million facility in 2010.

Locating HondaJet Southeast in Tallahassee makes sense, says Flightline’s Chairman and CEO Paul “Mac” Langston, because it’s convenient to most Southern markets and there’s plenty of available airspace. “There aren’t really any other dealerships I know of out there where you can pull up and buy a jet.”

A Capitol Site: Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee, has long been known for its Southern charm and vibrant lifestyle, propelled, in part, by three institutions of higher education: Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and Tallahassee Community College.

Adding Jobs: GT Technologies, a $60-million automotive systems manufacturer, is growing its business in Leon County, creating nearly 150 new jobs and directing $30 million in capital improvements toward the expansion of its production facility, a development expected to have a $70.5-million economic impact on the county, including about $16 million in payroll.


Right Location: Directly adjacent to Leon County, Jefferson is ideally positioned to serve as a bedroom community for Tallahassee workers seeking wide-open spaces. An 1890s-era opera house in Monticello has been renovated. This two-story building houses a rentable banquet hall facility on the ground floor and a near-perfect acoustical theatre on its second floor.

Jackson, liberty & Walton Counties

It’s All About the Green: A decision in 2007 by Green Circle Bio-Energy to build a $100-million, 300,000-square-foot wood pellet plant — the world’s largest — in Cottondale has invigorated Jackson County and the surrounding area. Officials of the company, which is a subsidiary of Sweden/JCE Group AB, chose the site for its abundance of Southern yellow pine. The plant produced its first pellets in April 2008; ultimately, plans call for a production capacity of 560,000 tons of pellets per year, which will be exported to Europe through the Port of Panama City, and an estimated 150 additional jobs in Jackson and nearby counties.

Sam Hatcher, president of Liberty Industries and a native of Liberty County, has plans to build a $50-million ethanol energy plant at a yet-to-be-determined Liberty County site that will turn forest waste products — the tops, limbs and barks off pine trees that have already been cut — into 7 million gallons of ethanol annually. A $4-million “Farm to Fuel” grant is helping to offset the costs of the project, which will break ground in summer 2009.

With its abundance of pine, Liberty County offers plenty of feedstock for the plant, Hatcher says, as well as solid transportation options for moving his finished product to gas storage blending facilities in Jacksonville or Pensacola via AN and CSX railway tracks. “Liberty County has excellent rail access,” says Hatcher. “Excellent.”

Hatcher’s goal for the plant is to double or triple its ethanol capacity within the first three years. Ultimately, he hopes to produce 70 million gallons of ethanol annually from his Liberty County facility.

Gulf Coast Energy of Walton LLC has received a $7-million “Fuel to Farm” grant, which will be used toward construction of a tandem biodiesel and ethanol production facility at Mossy Head in Walton County. The $62-million plant will be built at the Northwest Florida Commerce Park; actual production of biodiesel is expected by the end of 2008 and of ethanol in early 2009.

Seaside in Walton County
Seaside in Walton County helped launch the “New Urbanist” movement.

Calhoun County

Sustainable Growth: Located in the center of Florida’s Panhandle, Calhoun County offers perhaps the best access to outdoor activities in the state. With two different rivers — the Apalachicola and the Chipola — there’s no better place to canoe or kayak. In addition to pristine forests, some of the world’s most beautiful beaches are less than an hour away.

SKY Development knows the natural riches this county offers and is building a sustainable, planned community on a 571-acre site off Hwy-287 and Shelton Road. The project is expected to infuse about $22 million into the local economy. Modeled after old-world European villages, the yet-to-be-named project uses the latest in energy-efficient technology to protect the surrounding environment. In addition to an equestrian complex and riding trails, it will feature 624 new homes, public gardens, group agriculture with a farmer’s market and a lodge and conference center.


Panama City-Bay County International Airport Rendering
Artist renderings depict the new terminal at Panama City-Bay County International Airport.
Panama City-Bay County International Airport Rendering

Airport on Track: Construction continues on the new $313.5-million, 4,000-acre Panama City-Bay County International Airport scheduled to begin flight operations by May 2010.

Billed as the nation’s first “green” airport, the facility will feature a LEED-certified terminal building and more than 34,000 acres of preserved land along West Bay and its tributaries. The airport will offer three runways totaling 21,000 feet in length, including a main runway extending to 10,000 feet. Additional plans call for 1,400 acres of “inside-the- fence” commercial/industrial development and a 37-million-square-foot regional employment center outside the fence.

The airport is being built on land donated by The St. Joe Company, the largest private landowner in Florida. A 75,000-acre mixed-use community called West Bay, which will have 4.4 million square feet available for commercial, office, industrial and residential development, is taking shape near the airport, also on land owned by St. Joe.

Wakulla & Gadsden Counties

Changes on the Way: There’s a move afoot in Wakulla County to redevelop the waterfront area of St. Marks. Officials are making plans to spruce up this historic Gulfside town, with roots dating back to the 1600s; plans call for construction of a conference center near water’s edge. Groundbreaking on the new resort could take place here as early as 2010.

Headquarters Coming: A 55-acre expansion is under way at the Gretna Industrial Park in Gadsden County so that CDS Manufacturing Inc., a leading producer of precast and prestressed concrete products, can move its national headquarters here. The proposed 100,000-square-foot, $20-million facility will provide immediate employment for 50 people with an anticipated increase to 175 jobs over the next three years.

Holmes & Washington Counties

Incentives Available: Bordering on the Alabama state line to its north, Holmes County offers a 20-square-mile Enterprise Zone divided into three non-contiguous areas covering Bonifay, Ponce de Leon and Esto. Businesses that elect to locate within this zone may be eligible to receive sales tax refunds for building materials and business machines and equipment as well as property tax credits for new jobs.

Room to Grow: Construction on a $9.2-million multi-lane highway project is slated for completion by summer 2009. The project includes expanding State Road 79 to four lanes and adding paved shoulders. A 40-foot-wide median, upgraded drainage facilities and turn lanes also are part of the project. SR 79 is the north/south route from Panama City Beach to Washington and Holmes counties, and is a major thoroughfare for visitors traveling to and from the Gulf beaches.

GULF County

Hospital Opening: Gulf County residents will have easy access to medical treatment once the new $30-million Sacred Heart Hospital opens in January 2009. The new hospital sits on 30 acres of land and includes 25 private rooms, an emergency department, ICU and two operating rooms. Also available: an urgent care clinic to treat minor illnesses and injuries; laboratory services; diagnostic imaging services such as CT scans, X-ray, ultrasound and mammography; an office building for 10 physicians, a helipad for trauma arrivals; and parking for 370 vehicles. Working alongside the Gulf County Health Department and County Commission, The St. Joe Company donated land and $1 million for site preparation, plus $5 million over 10 years to help bring the hospital plan to fruition.

Growing Community: WindMark Beach, a 2,020-acre residential and resort community planned by The St. Joe Company, is in Phase 2 of construction. Many of the shops at the community’s Village Center will be open for business by fall 2008, along with a meeting hall, fitness center and several restaurants. More than half of the proposed three-and-a-half-mile BeachWalk, which includes an interconnecting boardwalk for the individual properties, is complete. The community is located two miles north of Port St. Joe and 22 miles west of Apalachicola.

Franklin County

Practicing What You Preach

Garlick Environmental Associates Inc. specializes in ecological and archaeological assessment. Now, after more than 25 years of advising clients on how their proposed developments would impact the environment, company founder Dan Garlick has decided it’s time to lessen his own firm’s environmental footprint.

In summer 2008, Garlick completed construction on a new Franklin County headquarters complex, which includes 3,400 square feet of office space and a 6,400-square-foot hangar at the Apalachicola Regional Airport. The primary source of power for the new facilities is solar, generated by a 25-kilowatt photovoltaic roof-mounted system.

A grant from the Florida Department of Transportation funded part of the $850,000 project; Garlick kicked in the rest. The new facility will house both of Garlick’s former Franklin County offices under one roof; the company’s other two offices — in Tallahassee and Panama City — will remain open. To further conserve on energy, Garlick has purchased an electric car, which will be used by the corporate headquarters in Franklin.

Distinctive Sites: Apalachicola, in Franklin County, was chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of its “2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations.” And no wonder. This picturesque beach town boasts beautifully restored hotels, a waterfront busy with fishing vessels, eclectic shops and streets lined with more than 900 structures listed in its National Register Historic District.

In addition to Apalachicola and the spectacular St. George Island, Franklin County is known for its bountiful seafood industry; 90% of Florida oysters are taken from Franklin County waters.

Leavins Seafood, an oyster processing company launched here in 1972, is making another multi-million dollar expansion, which includes a new refrigeration plant, says company co-founder Alice Leavins, who has worked alongside husband Grady, to build this business. Leavins Seafood now employs more than 75 people with drivers delivering to wholesale food distributors from Key West to California.

Opening in fall 2008 in Franklin is a new K-12 school to serve the entire county. The $51-million facility includes a technology hub, state-of-the-art security system, science labs, wellness/training center, culinary arts program and 1,000-seat cafeteria/auditorium. The 109-acre complex replaces all former educational facilities in the county.

Okaloosa County

Educational Opportunity: In June 2008, Okaloosa Walton College in Niceville joined eight other Florida community colleges in a pilot program to create a new state college system in Florida. On July 8, OWC’s board of trustees officially renamed the school Northwest Florida State College.

The new college system law, which allows two-year institutions in Florida to offer four-year degrees, is aimed at increasing access to higher education for more students. OWC was accredited to offer bachelor’s degrees in 2004 and already had baccalaureate programs in project management and nursing. In addition to these, Northwest Florida State College will offer bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and middle grades math and science education beginning in fall 2008.

Santa Rosa County

Plenty of Activity: The Ropella Group, an executive search and corporate consulting firm, moved into its new 15,000-square-foot building at the Santa Rosa Industrial Park in August 2008, investing $2.5 million for the expansion. The existing employee base of 35 workers is expected to increase to 50 by the end of 2008.

Pro-Build Lumber Company also moved into the Santa Rosa Industrial Park in March 2008. The firm made a $1-million capital investment and plans to employ 50 people.

The town of Pace has a new $45-million, 235,000-square-foot commercial complex that is home to the county’s first Target store, as well as a Publix supermarket and PetSmart.

Long known for its sun and sand, northwest Florida region is today seeking a new identity — as a hub for businesses focused on modern technology and state-of-the-art industry.

To that end, a coalition of 29 area businesses, stretching from Fort Walton Beach in Okaloosa County to Pensacola in Escambia County, has formed The Innovation Coast. This partnership organization is aimed at attracting innovative companies to the area by combining and coordinating the region’s educational institutions, research organizations, entrepreneurs and economic developers into an interwoven, high-tech business community.

Enterprises as diverse as the Boeing Aerospace Support Center, Separation Systems Inc., a leader in the field of gas chromatography, and the newly christened Northwest Florida State College, are part of the venture.