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Panhandle's building codes come under scrutiny


Executive Director, Home Builders Association of Northwest Florida, Pensacola

“Even with all the development, we still have a shortage of lots, and that is putting a lot of pressure on developers to find land that’s not outrageously priced. When the large national home building companies come into the Northwest Florida market, they generally take all the lots in a subdivision. As bigger companies do that, mid-range and smaller builders are having a hard time finding land to build on. As a result, they end up building on scattered lots.

The rising cost of acquiring developable land is part of the equation driving up home-building costs. But we’re also seeing price increases in lumber, and tariffs also have had some impact on cost of construction. What’s more, every time a barrel of oil goes up, the cost of shingles and plastics also go up with it.

Overall, I think the 2008 recession is still vivid in the minds of many of our members. They are moving forward but are being somewhat selective in their building projects. Despite this cautionary mood, I do sense there is optimism among our members going into 2019 and on into 2020.”

Forecast | AEROSPACE

President/CEO, Florida’s Great Northwest, Niceville

“We’ve had great economic success and job growth in Northwest Florida during 2018, and we expect it to continue in 2019 thanks to the benefits of Triumph Gulf Coast’s funding.

We will see some growth from both the helicopter and airplane maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) perspective. We worked closely during 2018 with Scott Luth at FloridaWest, the city of Pensacola and Triumph Gulf Coast to secure a memorandum of understanding with ST Engineering Aerospace to expand its hangar facilities at Pensacola International Airport.

There is a lot of growth potential in the MRO industry in U.S., and the goal is to have additional hangar space available to accommodate that demand.

We’re also thinking that Airbus in Mobile, Ala., is going to start requiring that their European-based tier 1 and tier 2 parts suppliers have some local presence in the U.S. and Southeast, and we will be looking at that sector for opportunities.

In addition to aerospace, we’ve also got a small but growing cybersecurity sector that’s promising, and we’re seeing some growth in auto parts manufacturing in Bay County.”

Forecast | WORKFORCE

CEO, CareerSource Capital Region, Tallahassee

“Health care is certainly the No. 1 job growth sector in Northwest Florida. And while construction jobs have come back and wages are decent, that sector is still not showing the kind of increases we’d like to see. The hope is we can get some construction apprenticeship programs going that will help move the needle in that sector.

IT is another area where we’re seeing companies post jobs. However, recently we had 200 IT jobs posted in Employ Florida that we could not fill, which seems very odd because we are in an area (Tallahassee) where we have two major universities.

The No. 1 reason that those jobs went unfilled is the coding language being taught in our universities is no longer being used. The second thing we’re finding is the pay structure offered in this area is well below the national average and well below the state average.

We had a recent IT posting at the tier 2 level, and I looked at what the average salary in the U.S. is for that type position. It was $65,000. The average salary for that level IT job in Florida is $45,000. The salary posted for the same job here in the Tallahassee area was $32,000. Skilled IT professionals are just not going to accept IT jobs at that pay level.”

Forecast | JOBS

Economic Adviser, Triumph Gulf Coast, Pensacola

“Overall, the Northwest Florida coastal metro areas, particularly Fort Walton Beach, Destin and south Walton County outperformed the rest of the state in job growth. Most of that growth is in leisure and hospitality, which has generally outpaced other sectors in the Northwest Florida economy.

Manufacturing employment, which is outperforming other geographies in the state, has grown at rapid clip and will continue to grow in 2019 and beyond, largely because Triumph Gulf Coast has a strong interest in funding manufacturing projects. We’ll also see good growth in supply chain logistics in our area.

The military continues to be a high-wage sector. However, there is not a lot of job growth there. We will continue to see population growth in Northwest Florida above the national average, and this is due in part to a good migration of older people retiring in this area.

The 65-and-over segment is projected to be the fastest-growing population sector in Northwest Florida over the next decade. We do not have as many well-developed retirement communities as other parts of the state.”


Director, International Airport, Pensacola

“Pensacola International Airport had 1.9 million passengers in 2018. That’s up from 1.7 million in 2017. Every single month this past year was a record for us in some form or another.

Across the Northwest Florida region, all the airports have been growing, but Pensacola and Okaloosa are growing the most. The arrival of Allegiant Air at the Destin/ Fort Walton Beach Airport is really driving passenger growth there. We’re having to look much sooner than expected at infrastructure improvements. Our airport master plan projected 2020 passenger numbers that were actually reached in 2018.”

Forecast | TOURISM

Director, Okaloosa Tourist Development Council, Destin-Fort Walton Beach

“The destruction caused by Hurricane Michael in Gulf and Bay counties is going to present us with challenges.

The Northwest Florida Tourism Council is partnering with Visit Florida to make sure our destinations that were not impacted by Michael are able to host all our visitors until they can go back to Bay and Gulf counties.

Overall, our tourist development taxes are up 10% in 2018, and that figure is typical for the other seven counties across the Panhandle. But I am focused on the sum of the parts, not just overnight stays. From that perspective, I’m seeing good growth in hospitality employment and restaurant sales.

We’re also seeing an increase in European visitors. We’re really focused on attracting English-speaking foreign travelers. The goal of our marketing and branding efforts is to let people know Northwest Florida’s tourist season is open year-round, and people are starting to understand that.”

Issues ...

  • Hurricane Aftermath: The devastation caused by Hurricane Michael likely will prompt the Florida Building Commission to review building codes in Northwest Florida, which are less restrictive than those in the rest of the state. Panhandle counties were largely exempted from stricter building codes implemented elsewhere in the state after Hurricane Andrew caused massive destruction in the Miami-Dade area in 1992. Most Florida Panhandle counties and cities require buildings to resist wind speeds of 130 mph or less. Hurricane Michael’s wind gusts reached 155 mph.

Pensacola / Escambia County Issues ...

  • Public Health: Escambia County dropped three places to rank 58 among the state’s 67 counties in overall health, according to the most recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. John Lanza, director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia, says one reason is the high level of poverty in the Pensacola metropolitan area.
  • Leadership: After eight years as Pensacola’s first strong mayor, Ashton Hayward did not seek a third term and was succeeded by former Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson. City voters are looking to Robinson to establish closer ties between the mayor’s office and city council members.
  • Port of Pensacola: The city of Pensacola has hired maritime consulting firm Moffatt & Nichol to help it determine whether to keep operating the city-owned Port of Pensacola or put the facility to some other use. Founded in 1743, the port needs costly improvements and faces strong competition from other Gulf ports.

Tallahassee / Leon County Issues ...

  • Crime: The most recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement data show Tallahassee’s crime rate declining from a 2016 peak of 6,727 crimes per 100,000 people to 5,765 in 2017, the latest reporting period. The state average is 3,181 crimes per 100,000 people.
  • Government: Tallahassee’s newly elected mayor, John Dailey, a former Leon County commissioner, faces the challenge of re-establishing trust and transparency in city hall as the FBI investigates the city’s community redevelopment agency.
  • Growth: Commercial and residential construction in the Tallahassee area is projected to be up nearly 50% in 2018 compared to 2017. Commercial building permits are on track to exceed 3 million square feet compared to 2.3 million in 2017.

Panama City / Bay County Issues ...

  • Building Codes: State and federal officials say the final assessments of residential losses from Hurricane Michael could range as high as $3 billion, with commercial loses up to $1 billion. Tyndall Air Force Base sustained severe damage to its fighter pilot training command facilities and equipment. Tyndall has 3,400 active duty personnel and a multimillion-dollar economic impact on the region. The Department of Defense is assessing the cost of rebuilding the base and returning it to full operational status.
  • Environment: Environmental issues caused by damage from Hurricane Michael and an outbreak of red tide in late summer have local officials concerned. Before the hurricane struck, an outbreak of the brevis bacteria, which causes red tide, resulted in major fish kills in Bay and neighboring counties.

County Business Briefs

CALHOUN COUNTY — Voters have approved a 10-year extension of a half-cent sales tax earmarked for Calhoun County schools. The sales tax generates nearly $500,000 annually.

DIXIE COUNTY — Local business and aviation leaders have scheduled the 2019 Cross City Airport Fly-In & Business Expo, which attracted several thousand visitors last year, for April 27.

FRANKLIN COUNTY — Franklin County Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper says the damage from Hurricane Michael is going to result in a “huge drop in the tax rolls” for 2019. Valuations of some residential and commercial properties could go “all the way down to an unbuildable lot,” says Skipper.

GADSDEN COUNTY — Hoover Treated Wood Products says it will invest $3.3 million to expand its Havana facility. Hoover executives say the investment will create 25 jobs with annual salaries averaging $40,000.

GULF COUNTY — The Florida Department of Transportation plans to begin construction in 2021 of a 30-mile long Gulf Coast Parkway linking Gulf County to Bay County. The first segment will extend 1.4 miles from U.S. Highway 98 to Star Avenue in Bay County.

HOLMES COUNTY — County commissioners are partnering with Washington County and the Bonifay City Council to establish an authority to manage extension of water and sewer lines along SR 79 from I-10 south into Washington County. The project is expected to stimulate economic growth along that corridor.

JACKSON COUNTY — The city of Marianna has received a state grant of $735,885 for the construction of a water main connecting the existing system to the county’s Industrial Park adjacent to I-10.

JEFFERSON COUNTY — With 230-plus employees, Monticello-based Simpson Nurseries enters 2019 as Jefferson County’s largest private-sector employer. Simpson produces more than 1.5 million deciduous trees and shrubs annually on its 800 acres.

LAFAYETTE COUNTY — Lafayette County’s growing pine straw harvesting industry accounted for more than 100 jobs in 2018. The two leading local producers are Florida Pine Straw Supply and Putnals Premium Pine Straw.

LIBERTY COUNTY— Liberty County has received a $50,000 state grant to expand its Hosford and Telogia water systems. The expansion is expected to open new areas of the county for growth.

MADISON COUNTY — Madison-based Stahl-Meyer Foods has signed a five-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars to provide food at the team’s TIAA Bank Field. The contract may create up to 80 jobs, says Brian Kaufmann, executive director of the Madison County Development Council.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY — The Santa Rosa County Commission has put together a $5-million incentive package with the potential to create 600 jobs in a proposed 350,000-sq.-ft. facility at the I-10 Industrial Park, says Shannon Ogletree, director of the county’s Economic Development Office.

TAYLOR COUNTY — Taylor County’s Development Authority has launched a marketing initiative to stimulate the sale of commercial properties. The “Pre-Checked” program calls for signs to be placed in prominent locations on properties to quickly inform site selectors of the availability and pricing of commercial properties.

WAKULLA COUNTY — The Florida Park Service will continue its 15-year contract with Guest Services Management to run the Wakulla Springs Lodge.

WALTON COUNTY — County commissioners have approved a plan by Texas-based homebuilder D.R. Horton to develop 83 single-family lots near the WaterSound development in South Walton. The approval completes the county’s 15-year-old, 80-acre Prominence Development of Regional Impact.

WASHINGTON COUNTY —Cypress Spring, one of Northwest Florida’s most picturesque springs, will now be protected by a partnership of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, Washington County commissioners and Nestlé Waters North America.


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