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Pensacola moves beyond the military

Pensacola / Escambia County

While a military base and tourism anchor the Pensacola economy, nearly 310 IT companies employ about 2,400 people, including AppRiver, specializing in email and web security, with more than 200 employees, and Global Business Solutions, with 80 employees in Pensacola and 122 nationwide.

Business leaders from five northwest Florida counties (Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia) met with leading European aerospace companies in Hamburg, Germany, in December to discuss bringing manufacturers such as Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Gulfstream to the region.

Gulf Power launched a site certification program to create shovel-ready sites in the region.

Escambia County is working with the U.S. Navy to swap land in order to develop a future commerce park with more than 600 acres of buildable land.

The Port of Pensacola is positioning itself as a vessel services center for the U.S. Gulf offshore oil and gas industry.

Gander Mountain: One of the country's largest outdoor specialty retailers, Gander is adding 50 to 70 employees in the area.

Navy Federal Credit Union: The credit union is bringing 1,500 jobs and more than $200 million in capital investment by the end of 2016.

Global Business Solutions: The IT company unveiled a five-year plan that includes expanding its Pensacola headquarters and hiring up to 120 full-time employees.

West Fraser / iGate: The two international companies Expanded in the region, bringing 490 jobs. West Fraser will reopen the McDavid lumber mill, creating 105 jobs; and iGATE announced a 385-job expansion, doubling its presence in northwest Florida.

Custom Control Solutions: The company, which manufactures control systems, has 45 employees and three locations in the Pensacola area. President Manfred Laner expects it to grow 25% annually during the next fve years.

Hixardt Technologies: The provider of IT, engineering and consulting services is expanding throughout the Southeast and expects to hire 30 for its Pensacola headquarters this year.

Avalex Technologies: Tad Ihns, president of Avalex, previously based in Atlanta, moved his surveillance equipment company to Pensacola in 2001. The company now has a 53,000-sq.-ft. facility in Gulf Breeze, more than 50 employees and a spinoff of new products, including a new line of digital video test equipment.

Fort Walton / Okaloosa County

As it marks its 25th anniversary, the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council is launching an initiative called The Next 25 to increase participation and funding for the organization.

Destin seeks to attract business by offering tax incentives for specific industries — professional, scientific and technology services, light manufacturing and education, life services and health services. Okaloosa County will ask voters in August to renew its ad valorem tax exemption program to encourage businesses to move in. UpUnder, which plans to bring 67 jobs and grow to 350 within five years, recently used the exemption.

The Destin Commons expansion adds four buildings and more than 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. City Market is also expanding, with the addition of City Market Bayside.

Bit-Wizards: The tech company expanded with Project Talking Parents, a program developed by the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, that will result in 20 jobs in software development, account management and advertising with a $1-millionplus capital investment.

Panama City / Bay County

Bay County saw several expansions — Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center's critical-care wing; Gulf Coast State College's Advanced Technology Center; FSU Panama City's Business Innovation Center; and Port Panama City's Intermodal Distribution Center.

Whisper Dunes, a new development in Panama City Beach, is building 129 homes.

The Panama City Marina revitalization project is finally gaining momentum. The city, now sole owner of the two marinas, will incorporate public and commercial use into the downtown and St. Andrews areas."We're going to revisit the whole Plan and exhaust all efforts to find out what we should do. We owe it to the taxpayers," says Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki.

General Dynamics Information Technology, which hired 1,400 for its Lynn Haven site, announced plans to lay off 730 at the site. Meanwhile, Pier Park North, an outdoor mall across from Pier Park Lifestyle Center in Panama City Beach, opens this spring, and Tyndall Air Force Base, the only base that trains F-22 Raptor pilots, will gain 24 new Raptors, eventually doubling that number to have the largest collection in the world, adding 1,100 new jobs. "Bay County is Poised for growth and development," says Carol Roberts, president and CEO of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. "Industry, military, tourism and education are key to a community and we have it all."

ISirona: A unit of Nanthealth, the information technology company provides solutions for medical device integration. It will expand its operations in Panama City, creating 300 jobs in the next two years.

Holmes / Washington Counties

The Town of Ponce de Leon, the Holmes County Development Commission and Opportunity Florida worked together to bring Knopf Automotive, the oldest and largest automotive core distributor in the world, says Jim Brook, executive director of Opportunity Florida. The team worked with the Holmes County Board of County Commissioners to renovate an industrial building in Ponce de Leon just off Interstate 10.

The Washington County Enterprise Zone, which offers economic incentives for new and expanding businesses, is extending by a mile and a half along SR 79 in both Vernon and Ebro, says Ted Everett, executive director for the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.The expansion allows small-business owners who hire to get a tax credit — or tax refund for building materials.

The old Washington County courthouse is being demolished to make way for a larger courthouse with improved technology and security at an expected cost of $8.8 million.

Apalachicola / Franklin County

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio met in Apalachicola to hear from oystermen on the adverse effects diminished river flows have had on the industry. Scott fled a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court to force Georgia to release more water down the river.

Gulf Unmanned Systems Center, a robot drone company based in Panama City Beach, plans to add more than 30 jobs in Carrabelle in its first three years. The company wants to test small drones on land, water and air.

Walton County

Tourism was up 12.7% in 2013, and bed tax revenue exceeded $18.5 million, says Jim Bagby, executive director for Visit South Walton. "We think we'll continue to grow this year in the 6% to 8% range," he says.

The Pearl, a 55-room boutique resort, opened in Rosemary Beach.

Grayton Beer, a local brewery, also opened.

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa is celebrating its 30th anniversary with major renovations.

Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores is building its new retail and service facility at Mossy Head Industrial Park. It is scheduled to open this summer and will generate 80 jobs.

The county is in the latter stages of negotiations with Empire Truck, a dealer and service center, which will also be located at Mossy Head Industrial Park.

Waste Management is opening a facility for its regional headquarters in the Walton County Industrial Park at Freeport.

Gulf County

The Tourist Development Council rebranded itself under new director Jennifer Jenkins. The county had a nearly 15% increase in bed-tax revenue, exceeding $1 million for the first time.

The Port of Port St. Joe is working on a $25-million dredging project. Four companies so far have signed letters of intent expressing An interest in transporting materials via the port and the Apalachicola Northern Railway, provided the port channel is dredged and improvements are completed to the railway.

Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County was listed at No. 10 of 25 counties in the nation in CNN Money's "Where the Jobs are — Best Places to Live — America's Best Small Towns."

Northwest Florida Industrial Park completed the second of a three-phase process used to certify sites through Gulf Power's site Certification program. The Santa Rosa Industrial Park is bringing in new businesses. Manufacturing companies and distributors are moving in and expanding. A new hotel is in the works in Navarre Beach.

Jackson / Calhoun / Liberty Counties

Construction began on a $2.7-million bridge project over Jackson County's Stafford Creek on SR 69, to be complete by the winter. Chipola College gained a new welding program, and new President Jason Hurst replaced President Gene Prough, who retired.

The Blountstown City Council and the Calhoun County Commission are partnering to extend sewer service to the Town of Altha, with an eye toward developing the SR 71 North corridor, including a new school in Altha.

Bristol Youth Academy, a staterun juvenile justice program, closed.The Bristol branch of Cadence Bank also closed. The closures of the two facilities resulted in the elimination of 75 jobs. "On the bright side, we are hoping to get a forestry-related industry," says Johnny Eubanks, volunteer executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce."