April 22, 2024

Business Florida 2024
The Regions

Northwest

Bay • Calhoun • Escambia • Franklin • Gadsen • Gulf • Holmes • Jackson • Jefferson • Leon • Liberty • Okaloosa • Santa Rosa • Wakulla • Walton • Washington

| 1/17/2024

Northwest

Northwest

3 Deep-water Seaports

4 Commercial Airports

8 Colleges / Universities

Florida’s Northwest has long enjoyed an abundance of assets — sugar white beaches, bright blue gulf waters, a heavy military presence, and no shortage of space for new companies to thrive. Thanks in part to 3,000+ military retirees who join the workforce here annually. With plenty of skilled workers to staff, aviation, technology and logistics are among primary growth industries.

 

Aviation/Aerospace

Up, up and away best describes the continuing growth of Northwest Florida’s impressive portfolio of aviation and aerospace assets.

The latest boost to those industries is the recent announcement that Triumph Gulf Coast had awarded Florida State University a $98.4 million grant to fund the construction of the Institute for Strategic Partnerships, Innovation, Research, and Education, or InSPIRE.

To be located in Bay County, InSPIRE will feature two large buildings dedicated to aerospace research and advanced aviation manufacturing.

One building will cover about 35,000 square feet and house a high-speed wind tunnel for aerospace testing and high-level security work with the Department of Defense.

The second 50,000-square-foot building will support advanced aerospace manufacturing and offer space for defense-related companies.

Bay County officials want both buildings to be located at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.

“Look at the growth that’s happened around the airport in the last several years,” says Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Executive Director Parker McClellan. “This project is going to continue to flourish that opportunity for the airport to grow, for aviation to grow in the community as well as creating new opportunities for more jobs.”

Contracts between FSU and future tenant companies are expected to generate up to $50 million annually and provide on-the-job training for engineering and graduate students.

Panama City’s rapidly growing Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport recently added another aerospace tenant. Canada-based Premier Aviation has begun work on a $32.5 million aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facility that’s expected to create 250 jobs over the next four years.

There are few better barometers of a region’s economic health than the annual passenger counts at its major airports.

And by that measure Northwest Florida’s economy is flying high.

Here’s the proof:

Pensacola International Airport set another all-time record with its 2023 passenger counts. Airport Director Matt Coughlin says the fiscal year total of 2.65 million passengers was a nearly 9% increase over the previous year. The airport also was selected as a 2023 “Top 10 Small Airport in the U.S.” by USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport’s 2023 passenger count easily broke its all-time record posted in 2021. The airport’s passenger count topped 1.85 million in 2023, a 270,000-passenger increase over the airport’s previous record of 1.58 million in 2021.

To accommodate this continued growth, the airport has embarked on a $14.7 million construction project to add more parking space, expand its baggage area and terminal facilities.

Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport also set a new record with a total of about 2.25 million passengers in 2023.

Construction

After the 2018 devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, the Air Force authorized what eventually became a $5 billion rebuild of Tyndall, the largest single capital project in U.S. Department of Defense history.

“We’re rebuilding Tyndall, not from scratch, but almost,” says base commander Col. George Watkins. “We’re reconstructing all 487 buildings on the base.”

Tyndall Air Force Base is a major driver of the economy in Bay County and the entire Northwest Florida region, so the decision to completely rebuild Tyndall was a critical turning point in Bay County’s economic future.

Education

The FAMU-FSU College of Engineering was awarded a $5 million grant in partnership with the University of Florida to study high-speed flight of aerospace vehicles.

The FSU-headquartered Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion (FCAAP) will manage the program that focuses on fundamental research into enhancing control systems crucial to aerospace vehicles that can “morph” their shape while in flight.

Energy

Florida Power & Light’s commitment to investing in solar farms is putting Northwest Florida squarely on the national map for renewable energy.

A division of Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy, FPL’s newest Northwest Florida investments were the Saw Palmetto Solar Energy Center in Bay County and Cypress Pond Solar Energy Center in Washington County.

The two new FPL solar energy centers are capable of generating enough energy to power approximately 60,000 homes. FPL now has three solar energy centers online and several more planned for Northwest Florida in addition to the more than 60 solar energy centers in operation statewide.

Health Care

Northwest Florida’s strong network of health care facilities took a quantum leap in September when Pensacola-based Baptist Health Care opened its new $650 million, 57-acre hospital campus. BHC’s investment is the largest single capital health care project in Northwest Florida history.

With over 7,500 employees, BHC is one of the largest employers in the Pensacola region. The campus features a 10-story, 600,000-square-foot hospital with 264 beds, a 61-room Emergency Room department, the six-story, 178,000-square-foot Bear Family building for outpatients and physician offices, and a 72-bed, 49,000-square-foot Behavioral Medicine building.

Logistics/Transportation

Amazon now operates a new $200-million, 2.8-million-square-foot fulfillment center in Tallahassee, and has begun hiring and eventually expects to have a workforce totaling 1,000.

Eastern Shipbuilding Group recently completed a $6 million infrastructure improvement project at its satellite Port St. Joe facility in Gulf County. The company, headquartered in Panama City, also has embarked on a $50 million, 15,000-ton dry-dock project to provide full vessel repair and maintenance services.

Technology

The latest tech super star to emerge in Northwest Florida is Matt Zimmermann, founder and CEO of Beast Code, a rapidly growing software developer in Fort Walton Beach. The 33-year-old is a graduate of the University of West Florida and heads a thriving company with more than 200 employees.

“My initial thought in 2014 when I founded Beast Code was to have 10 people having fun, developing code and replacing IT systems,” says Zimmermann. “But three years into it we had a big break with a Navy contract that required us to hire 50 peopl,e and after that, as management, we said we couldn’t afford to think small. We have to think big and we’re still having fun.”

Zimmermann says the company has a national customer base, which includes the Department of Defense.

“We wanted to create a Silicon Valley-type company and do it here. We did that, and we’ve been calling it ‘Silicon Beach.’

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