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Northwest Florida Business Briefs - March 2006

? Area legislators have agreed to introduce a bill allowing Southport to incorporate, if voters approve. The community of 6,950 residents is north of Panama City.

? Slave Canal,
a county landmark, appears likely to get a new name. Florida legislation in 2004 requests that Florida place names with "racial, ethnic or religious slur'' be renamed. The canal, connecting to the Wacissa River, was dug by slaves around the 1850s to create a quicker way to get cotton to market. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names could change the name to Cotton Run Canal.

? Wakulla County's unemployment rate in December, at 2.1%, was lowest in the state. Okaloosa and Walton counties tied with three other counties for third-best rate, 2.3%.

? Financial woes at Quincy-based DasSee Community Health Systems and its affiliate, Ashford Community Health Care, are causing trauma at three regional hospitals: At Blountstown, hospital owner Calhoun-Liberty Hospital Board received a state license to run the hospital after DasSee, which had managed it since 1996, couldn't meet payroll and other operating costs; at Apalachicola, the Franklin County Commission awarded a two-year contract to Texas-based Blackhawk Healthcare to manage George E. Weems Memorial Hospital, again after DasSee relinquished management; and at Quincy, Gadsden County Commission's efforts to reopen Gadsden Community Hospital under county management have been complicated by the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of Ashford, its former operator. The hospital was shut down in November after the Agency for Health Care Administration deemed it a risk to public health.

? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand nesting security for the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse by listing as "critical habitat'' nearly 600 acres of state and private lands in Walton County and almost 100 acres in Okaloosa County. The move could limit development. Meanwhile, a bill in Congress might curb such protective measures.

? Beach tourist accommodations,
at 550 rooms, still haven't caught up to the pre-Hurricane Ivan level of 1,200, but hotel projects under way could help close the gap. The hurricane-damaged, 181-room Hampton Inn is being renovated and a 76-room Dunes Hotel is being repaired and converted to a Holiday Inn Express. Both expect to open by the summer season. The Towers, a new 17-story, 92-unit condo-hotel, is slated to open in 2007.

? Some dust particles captured from a comet and brought to Earth Jan. 15 by NASA's Stardust mission will be studied at Florida State University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Scientists say the first-ever studies of comet particles could unlock secrets about the origin of the solar system. Grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation are helping FSU fund a special lab for the study.

? A $23-million beach restoration project will add between 80 and 100 feet of beach along 2.2 miles in Destin and about five miles of county beaches.