2019 Economic Outlook
Panhandle's building codes come under scrutiny
Forecast | TOURISM
Director, Okaloosa Tourist Development Council, Destin-Fort Walton Beach
“The destruction caused by Hurricane Michael in Gulf and Bay counties is going to present us with challenges.
The Northwest Florida Tourism Council is partnering with Visit Florida to make sure our destinations that were not impacted by Michael are able to host all our visitors until they can go back to Bay and Gulf counties.
Overall, our tourist development taxes are up 10% in 2018, and that figure is typical for the other seven counties across the Panhandle. But I am focused on the sum of the parts, not just overnight stays. From that perspective, I’m seeing good growth in hospitality employment and restaurant sales.
We’re also seeing an increase in European visitors. We’re really focused on attracting English-speaking foreign travelers. The goal of our marketing and branding efforts is to let people know Northwest Florida’s tourist season is open year-round, and people are starting to understand that.”
- Hurricane Aftermath: The devastation caused by Hurricane Michael likely will prompt the Florida Building Commission to review building codes in Northwest Florida, which are less restrictive than those in the rest of the state. Panhandle counties were largely exempted from stricter building codes implemented elsewhere in the state after Hurricane Andrew caused massive destruction in the Miami-Dade area in 1992. Most Florida Panhandle counties and cities require buildings to resist wind speeds of 130 mph or less. Hurricane Michael’s wind gusts reached 155 mph.
Pensacola / Escambia County Issues ...
- Public Health: Escambia County dropped three places to rank 58 among the state’s 67 counties in overall health, according to the most recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. John Lanza, director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia, says one reason is the high level of poverty in the Pensacola metropolitan area.
- Leadership: After eight years as Pensacola’s first strong mayor, Ashton Hayward did not seek a third term and was succeeded by former Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson. City voters are looking to Robinson to establish closer ties between the mayor’s office and city council members.
- Port of Pensacola: The city of Pensacola has hired maritime consulting firm Moffatt & Nichol to help it determine whether to keep operating the city-owned Port of Pensacola or put the facility to some other use. Founded in 1743, the port needs costly improvements and faces strong competition from other Gulf ports.
Tallahassee / Leon County Issues ...
- Crime: The most recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement data show Tallahassee’s crime rate declining from a 2016 peak of 6,727 crimes per 100,000 people to 5,765 in 2017, the latest reporting period. The state average is 3,181 crimes per 100,000 people.
- Government: Tallahassee’s newly elected mayor, John Dailey, a former Leon County commissioner, faces the challenge of re-establishing trust and transparency in city hall as the FBI investigates the city’s community redevelopment agency.
- Growth: Commercial and residential construction in the Tallahassee area is projected to be up nearly 50% in 2018 compared to 2017. Commercial building permits are on track to exceed 3 million square feet compared to 2.3 million in 2017.
Panama City / Bay County Issues ...
- Building Codes: State and federal officials say the final assessments of residential losses from Hurricane Michael could range as high as $3 billion, with commercial loses up to $1 billion. Tyndall Air Force Base sustained severe damage to its fighter pilot training command facilities and equipment. Tyndall has 3,400 active duty personnel and a multimillion-dollar economic impact on the region. The Department of Defense is assessing the cost of rebuilding the base and returning it to full operational status.
- Environment: Environmental issues caused by damage from Hurricane Michael and an outbreak of red tide in late summer have local officials concerned. Before the hurricane struck, an outbreak of the brevis bacteria, which causes red tide, resulted in major fish kills in Bay and neighboring counties.