Northwest Florida Roundup
Solving a transportation problem along the northwest Florida coast
Finding reliable taxi service to and from northwest Florida airports was a recurring problem for Destin vacationer John Finch.
So the Memphis businessman, who moved to Walton County in 2004, decided to take matters into his own hands, launching Sunshine Shuttle & Limousine in Santa Rosa Beach with a single van and a lot of business savvy.
“I decided to start a cab company because it was an underserved market, and no one in the area seemed able to get it right,” he says.
A decade later, Finch’s company operates more than 40 vehicles, has 25 full-time and 50 part-time employees, annual revenue of more than $3 million and recently was named to Inc. magazine’s 2014 list of 5000 fastest-growing private U. S. companies.
Sunshine Shuttle & Limousine now provides a broad array of transportation services — from limos and buses to taxis and vans — along the coast from Apalachicola west to Pensacola. The company recently became the preferred transportation provider for Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
“John realized early on the area around Destin and Highway 30A linking Seaside and Grayton Beach was becoming more and more a major destination,” says Alan Roberts, vice president of sales and marketing. “His mindset was there should be quality transportation services that match the quality of the resorts.”
Last spring, Finch’s company rolled out a 21-day spring break program offering free rides along the area’s beach roads. The free-ride spring break program was so successful, Roberts says, that this season he expects to expand it to five vehicles and possibly provide the service throughout the summer.
BAY COUNTY — VentureCrossings, owned by St. Joe Co., is the frst industrial site to complete Gulf Power’s Florida First Sites program, which is designed to assist cities and counties in preparing shovel-ready sites for industrial recruitment. Eastern Shipbuilding Group is one of three fnalists vying for a $10.5-billion U.S. Coast Guard contract that could bring thousands of jobs to Bay County. The 20-year contract is for the development of 25 nextgeneration offshore patrol cutters for the Coast Guard.
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors will install an electric charging station in downtown DeFuniak Springs early this year.
DESTIN — Prudential PenFed Realty has joined Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Real Estate Brokerage Network in Santa Rosa Beach. > Gulf Coast Technology Solutions, an IT services provider, opened in Redfsh Village on Highway 30A.
ESCAMBIA/SANTA ROSA COUNTIES — Pensacola developers Quint and Rishy Studer plan to invest $250,000 early this year in a micro-loan program for businesses in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, with a focus on helping small businesses grow in the town of Century.
OKALOOSA — The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners is considering changing the name of the Northwest Florida Regional Airport. A recent study by a New Orleans marketing research frm recommends the name be changed to Destin- Fort Walton Beach International Airport.
PANAMA CITY — The Panama City planning board has approved a third Calypso Tower condo project that is expected to include 250 units. > The Panama City-Lynn Haven- Panama City Beach metropolitan area was one of six metro areas in Florida whose housing costs were deemed “unaffordable” in the third quarter by mortgage lender Freddie Mac. Panama City scored 96 on the agency’s affordability index. A score of 100 is baseline. Least affordable in the state was Naples with a 66 index score. Other metro areas with low scores include Tallahassee (94) , Miami (69) , Gainesville (89), and Sarasota (80). Highest score in Florida was Tampa with a positive 122 affordability index.
PENSACOLA — The Pensacola- Ferry Pass-Brent metropolitan statistical area added nearly 4,000 jobs last year, more than any other metro area in the northwest region. The metro area’s 2014 unemployment rate declined from 6.3% to nearly 5.2% by the end of last year.
PERRY — The Perry City Council has approved the purchase of several downtown commercial parcels that will be combined to complete Rosehead Park, a key feature in the town’s master development plan.
SANTA ROSA — Goldring Gulf Distributing has moved into its new $18-million distribution center in Milton. The 191,450-sq.-ft. beverage distribution center consolidates the company’s operations from Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola.
TALLAHASSEE — Silver Airways has begun offering direct fights from Tallahassee Regional Airport to Fort Lauderdale and an additional daily fight to Orlando. Winter Garden-based Integrity Golf Co., will operate Capital City Country Club. Integrity CEO Gene Garrote says the company has pledged to make a signifcant investment in the century-old club’s golf course.
> Enterprise Florida‘s board of directors chose former PortMiami Director Bill Johnson to replace Gray Swoope as CEO. Johnson becomes the governor’s top economic ambassador. Swoope resigned in January to take a job in the private sector.
> Skip Foster, formerly publisher of the Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach, is the new president & publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat.
> Debra Jenkins has been named corporate director of Risk Management for Baptist Health Care in Pensacola.
> Ian C. Donkin is the new president and CEO of Farmers & Merchants Bank in Tallahassee. Donkin previously was the bank’s COO.
> State Rep. Clay Ingram, Rpensacola, is the new president and CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber.
Patti Marine Enterprises
Founded in 1977, Pensacola-based Patti Marine Enterprises has built a variety of commercial vessels, including 4,000-passenger river-going gaming boats, Alaskan fishing trawlers, research ships, tugs, ferries and barges. The company, headed by Frank Patti Jr., is a major vessel contractor for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Current projects include construction of an ocean-going tug and a large floating crane.