Business Florida 2021 - The Regions
Bay • Calhoun • Escambia • Franklin • Gadsen • Gulf • Holmes • Jackson • Jefferson • Leon • Liberty • Okaloosa • Santa Rosa • Wakulla • Walton • Washington
Logistics and Distribution
Florida’s Northwest is unique for many reasons. With borders tightly tucked between the Gulf of Mexico to the south and Alabama and Georgia to the north, this narrow panhandle of land offers ready access by road, rail, sea and air. I-10 bisects Northwest from east to west, providing seamless connections to I-65, I-75 and I-95 and putting 12 of the Southeast’s major metros and 58 million potential customers within an eight-hour drive. And streamlining freight delivery are Class 1 CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines connected to several short rail lines and three deep-water ports.
In January 2020, the Port of Pensacola appeared to be on course for a banner year. At $2.41 million in 2019, port revenue had nearly doubled from the previous year’s $1.26 million due in large part to General Electric’s Pensacola-based Wind Energy assembly plant that shipped 1,632 wind-powered generators through the port. Prospects were good for growth through 2021, but then along came the coronavirus and the possibility that port revenues nationwide could decline. In the meantime, more than 100 welders and metal fabricators are converting the 600-foot Stena Freighter from cargo ship to landing platform for Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket boosters. Also in residence at the port: the New York Yacht Club’s high-tech racing sailboat Defiant and its 100-member racing team, representing the U.S. at the 2021 America’s Cup.
At Northwest’s busiest port — Port Panama City — Clark and Son, a distributor of custom kitchen cabinets, will lease a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility to use as a distribution and final assembly headquarters with 50 new jobs. Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City will expand into Gulf County at a waterfront site owned by the Port St. Joe Port Authority that includes a large warehouse and three smaller buildings to accommodate electrical services. Eastern continues to fulfill its contract with the U.S. Coast Guard for four offshore patrol cutters.
Four commercial airports continued to prosper in 2019, adding both new routes and passengers. At year’s end, total passenger count for the region topped 6 million, a 16% increase over 2018. While Pensacola International was this region’s busiest airport, serving a record 2.2 million passengers for the year, Northwest Florida Beaches International in Panama City recorded the highest growth with passenger volume increasing by 20.77% in 2019.
And coming soon to this industry sector:
• Automotive performance company RaceChip is moving its U.S. headquarters from California to Fort Walton Beach. Headquartered in Germany, RaceChip specializes in chip tuning a car’s computer to make it faster and more fuel efficient.
• Suzuki Motor of America will build its Suzuki Marine Technical Center USA — a facility for the development, testing and refining of Suzuki outboard products — on a 20-acre waterfront site in Panama City.
KEY PLAYERS: Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City; FedEx Ground, Defuniak Springs; Goldring Gulf Distributing, Milton
Gulf Power — now owned by NextEra, the parent company of FPL — opened its first solely owned solar plant in April 2020 on 697 acres just outside Jacob City in Jackson County. At 74.5 megawatts, Blue Indigo Solar Energy Center provides enough electricity to power 15,000 homes. Two more 74.5-megawatt facilities are under development: Blue Springs Solar Energy Center, also in Jackson County, and Cotton Creek Solar Energy in north Escambia County.
And while this state boasts no operational utility-scale wind facilities of its own, Florida’s Northwest plays an important role in facilitating wind power elsewhere. GE’s Wind Energy Plant in Pensacola assembles 2.5-megawatt wind turbines, each with the capacity to provide a year’s worth of power for up to 1,500 homes, for shipment to other states. GE is the largest supplier of wind power in the U.S. with nearly 400 projects and an operating capacity exceeding 40 gigawatts, enough energy to power 11 million homes.