Updated 5 yearss ago
Cybersecurity: Developing work force programs to meet the needs of the rapidly growing cybersecurity field is a top priority for the Pensacola area. Academic and business leaders see the Department of Defense's Center for Information Dominance at NAS Corry Station in Pensacola as a major catalyst for private-sector growth in the field. The University of West Florida has launched its Center for Cybersecurity. And UWF's Innovation Institute is working with area high schools and career academies to create programs for students interested in cybersecurity careers.
Downtown: Developer Quint Studer is set to move forward this spring on a $50-million, mixed-use project in downtown Pensacola. Plans include retail space and apartments. Studer has donated $5 million and one acre of the 5. 85-acre site for a $15-million downtown YMCA.
Tourism: Visit Pensacola, the lead tourism marketing agency, has launched Destination 2020. The fiveyear strategy will be rolled out next month and is designed to provide a road map for tourism as an economic engine.
Person to Watch
Bobby Switzer: Switzer heads a group of investors that has optioned a 4.5-acre site in the heart of downtown Pensacola. Switzer's One Palafox Place is set to close on the property in April. The site includes the historic Blount and Brent buildings and several popular restaurants, professional offices and shops. Switzer says his group will restore the property and may build second- floor residential units during phase one of a long-range development plan.
Business to Watch
Oren International: Locally owned and operated, Oren International manufactures a growing range of kraft paper products for the food service industry and health care providers. Headed by founders Alan and Lori NeSmith, the company employs 25 and produces paper products for such diverse clients as Johnson & Johnson, Sara Lee, John Deere, Whole Foods and Georgia-Pacific. In addition to its food services sector, Oren also manufactures protective, paper-based floor covering for construction sites.
Fort Walton/ Okaloosa County
Skilled Work Force: Oklaloosa's abundant supply of highly skilled aerospace workers makes the community attractive to European-based Airbus parts and service suppliers. "We have a lot of aerospace talent here, and we're working diligently to promote northwest Florida and Okaloosa as an ideal location for Airbus suppliers," says Nathan Sparks, executive director of Okaloosa's Economic Development Council. Construction is expected to begin this year in downtown Fort Walton Beach on the $33-million Landmark Center, a mixed-use project that has been eight years in the making. The project will include retail space, residential units and a marquee-brand hotel and restaurant.
County Population: 189,925, up 5.1% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 4.2%
Per capita income: $48,042
Panama City/ Bay County
Commerce: Efforts to capitalize on the county's transportation assets and strategically located industrial sites will take center stage this year for Panama City and Bay County business leaders. Bay County has two industrial properties certified under Gulf Power's Florida First Sites program, which provides project-ready industrial sites. They include 54 acres at Port Panama City's intermodal distribution center and 195 acres at Venture Crossing, a sprawling commerce park owned by St. Joe Co. And adjacent Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
Trade and Aviation: Port Panama City will be going after more trade with Central and South America this year, says Becca Hardin, executive director of the Bay County Economic Alliance. "The port employs more than 2,500 workers and has a huge impact on our local economy," Hardin says. The alliance, she says, is changing its strategy and going after what she called the "sweet spot" of aviationrelated companies with 100 jobs or more. "We're going to be real focused this year on bringing aviation companies to town to showcase our assets at the airport," she says.
Person to Watch
John Juchniewicz: 2015 chair of the Bay Economic Development Alliance, Juchniewicz, 48, is a CPA with Carr, Riggs, & Ingram. A graduate of Florida State University's master's of business administration program, Juchniewicz also is a member of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce and Panama City Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
Business to Watch
Edge Aerodynamix: The company announced in late 2014 that it will locate its U.S. operations adjacent to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. The $78-million project will get under way this year and create 120 manufacturing, research and development and marketing jobs. Edge manufactures products applied to aircraft wings and helicopter blades that reduce friction and pitting.
County Population: 178,404, up 5.4% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.8%
Per capita income: $41,130
Holmes/ Washington Counties
On the Tax Rolls: Gulf Pacific Contracting has moved into a 35,000-sq.-ft. building in Bonifay, formerly a shirt factory that had been owned by the Holmes County Development Commission. The company provides large-scale construction services for military and other federal installations throughout the Panhandle. The property is now back on the tax rolls, says Holmes County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Alvis.
Money for Growth: Washington County commissioners have pledged $2.8 million over the next 20 years for matching grants and development of industrial parks, says Ted Everett, executive director of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. "Having a pool of money to match state economic development grants has been a huge sticking point for rural counties like Washington," he says. "Now that we have this commitment, we're going to spend this money where we can get the greatest return on investment."
County Population: 20,623, up 3.8% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.2%
Per capita income: $30,456
County Population: 25,659, up 3.0% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 6.7%
Per capita income: $27,532
Apalachicola/ Franklin County
Fishing Concerns: Franklin County's important fishing industry is still feeling the effects of a prolonged drought and decadeslong water management feud with georgia over the Apalachicola River. Franklin County Administrator Alan Pierce says the state is investing some $6.3 million to help replenish Apalachicola Bay oyster beds. Meanwhile, Pierce says the county's tax base is improving along with its housing market. Tourism numbers picked up in 2014 and are expected to improve further in 2015, he says.
County Population: 12,240, up 5.8% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.5%
Per capita income: $32,472
Promising Developments: Construction is under way on the Henderson, a $300-million luxury beachfront resort in Destin's Henderson Beach State Park. Developed by Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, the 171-room hotel is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016. The recent opening of a Love's Travel Stop has been a catalyst for the Mossy Head Industrial Park, says Steve Jaeger, executive director of Walton's EDA. "Because of Love's locating at the Mossy Head interchange, we've been able to attract Empire Truck Sales, Southern Tire Co. And I-20 Truck Sales," Jaeger says. "Those deals have been concluded, and construction will begin in the spring this year," he says.
County Population: 61,958, up 12.0% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 3.8%
Per capita income: $37,365
Transportation priorities: Dredging the ship channel to the Port of Port St. Joe and improving rail lines to the facility are among the top economic development priorities for Gulf County offi cials. Port Authority member Leonard Costin says fi nal approval of dredging permits from the U.S. Corps of Engineers is expected by early spring of this year. The project is expected to cost $55 million. The Florida Legislature has appropriated $20 million for the project, and Costin says the authority hopes that the remaining $35 million will be allocated by the 2015 Legislature. Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City has leased 20 acres at the port site to expand its shipbuilding, vessel construction and repair and industrial steel fabrication operations in the Gulf Coast region. The AN Railway will begin rehabilitation of about 19 miles of rail to accommodate freight trains to and from the Port of Port St. Joe.
County Population: 16,143, up 1.8% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.5%
Per capita income: $28,781
Santa Rosa County
Supplying airliners: With Airbus' $600-million Mobile, Ala., assembly plant ramping up production of A320 commercial jetliners, Santa Rosa County is going all in on its pursuit of aviation service industries. "We're hitting aviation hard this year," says Shannon Ogletree, executive director of the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Offi ce. "We're going to trade shows and meeting one-on-one with Airbus' European suppliers. We have some promising leads." The Airbus assembly plant is a 65-minute drive from Santa Rosa's Whiting Aviation Park. Ogletree says Santa Rosa offi cials will ask the Legislature for $8.8 million for infrastructure improvements at the Aviation Park. Aerosync Support, a provider of helicopter repairs, modifi cations and upgrades, has opened a facility in the Santa Rosa Industrial Park in Milton. Aerosync provides global on-site labor support for Bell and Sikorsky helicopter products.
County Population: 167,795, up 10.4% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Per capita income: $39,996
Jackson/Calhoun/ Liberty Counties
Roads and water: Road repairs totaling some $20 million will get under way in Calhoun County this year. The money, from state and federal sources, will be used to fi x scores of bridges and roadways damaged during severe fl ooding in the spring of 2014. Jackson, Calhoun and Liberty county offi - cials will be keeping a close eye on the impact Amendment 1 will have on the Apalachicola River basin and the counties' agriculture industries. State Sen. Bill Montford told county offi cials recently that Amendment 1 "is a game-changer for water policy in the state, and agriculture will be heavily impacted by any potential reforms."