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Tallahassee - A Community Portrait

Tallahassee Skyline
[Photo: Ray Stanyard]

Once, it would have sufficed to paint Tallahassee as the seat of state government, nestled amid the state’s rural, less affluent northern tier with its traditional southern demographics and small-town political dynamics.

And it’s still true that government — one in three workers in Tallahassee is a federal, state or local government employee — likely will dominate the city’s economy for the immediate future, but there’s more afoot these days. Growing awareness of the role higher education institutions like Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College can play in driving economic development is creating a new dynamic in the city’s business community, which is moving to capitalize on the energy and resources created by having three state schools, their faculty and more than 60,000 students concentrated within a few square miles.

Economic developers are trying to leverage that human capital — and the area’s livability — to target high-value sectors like alternative energy, aviation, information technology and research services. Alone, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU is a unique asset that’s responsible for attracting at least one cutting-edge manufacturing firm, Danfoss Turbocor, a Danish manufacturer of high-tech air-conditioning compressors. In addition, the availability of a technically skilled workforce has helped give Tallahassee a substantial defense footprint — employees at a General Dynamics plant make electronic units for Abrams tanks and Bradley vehicles — and a savvy, progressive healthcare sector.

The business community also is moving to develop the city’s tourism infrastructure, notably sports-related tourism, and market the area’s history and natural resources. Economic developers have embraced regionalism with a visioning effort that even reaches across the nearby state line to encompass Thomas and Grady counties in Georgia.

Meanwhile, local governments have shown a progressive streak: Last year, the county closed the landfill, with almost 100% of the solid waste stream going to a recycling company. The city, after a struggle, has successfully converted a once-contaminated area south of the Capitol, integrating a stormwater management system with a 12-acre urban park.

Challenges remain. A 25% poverty rate in the city embodies the gap between the city’s haves and have-nots. Old Southern racial dynamics persist. Aside from the poverty rate, the city’s biggest obstacle to growing its non-government economy is transportation, particularly air service.

But there is a growing awareness that Tallahassee can be more ambitious economically than serving as a home for state government. It’s affordable, it has charm and history, and if it can build enough of an economic base to have more jobs available locally for the bright minds that pass through its schools, it can build a smart, modern economy that could alter the economic dynamics of the entire region.

South Adams Street
South Adams Street [Photo: Ray Stanyard]

A Community Portrait of Tallahassee

Who Lives Here


Tallahassee: 172,000

Leon County: 275,000

Key Demographics

White, non-Hispanic: 60%

African-American: 31%

Hispanic: 5%

» Tallahassee’s residents have a median age of 27.5 compared to the state’s median age of 40. Only 8% of the population is older than 65, compared to the state average of 17%. The city’s student population numbers more than 60,000, including students at Florida A&M, Florida State, Tallahassee Community College, Flagler College, Barry University and Lively Technical Center.

» Compared to Florida residents overall, residents of the city are much more likely to have been born in the U.S. — 95% of residents are native-born Americans — and to speak English at home (91% vs. the state average of 77%).

» Workers in Tallahassee don’t have to commute as much, spending on average nearly eight minutes less getting to work than workers statewide.

» The city’s median household income of $39,054 lags the state average of $47,778. More than a quarter of the city’s residents live in poverty.

» More than 90% of residents have at least a high school diploma, compared to the state average of 80%. About 45% have a bachelor’s degree or higher vs. 22% statewide. The county population has the highest educational levels in the state.


Leon County has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. More than 61% of the county’s voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama in the last presidential election. The county has had the highest voter turnout among Florida counties. Between 1968 and 1992, county voters have rejected consolidating city and county governments four times.
Joe Biden
Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Leon County. The Obama-Biden ticket got more than 61% of the vote in 2008. [Photo: UPI, Mark Wallheiser, Newscom]

Economic Life

Capitol, Tallahassee
The Capitol [Photo: Ray Stanyard]


Government continues to dominate Tallahassee’s economy. The most recent Census data show that government workers make up nearly a third of the entire workforce, ranging from state agency bureaucrats to legislative aides to university employees to Leon County school district employees. In addition, government-related lobbying, law and business and professional associations such as the Florida Bar, Florida Chamber and Florida TaxWatch account for substantial employment in the city and a notable portion of its professional class.


Collectively, Tallahassee’s three major state schools comprise more than 60,000 students and more than 13,000 employees, concentrated in a small geographic area. In addition to the major state schools, Tallahassee is also home to a branch of for-profit Keiser University and Lively Technical Center, which offers vocational training in aviation and other fields.

The state schools:

» Florida State University — The school has some 40,000 students in 15 colleges, including medicine and law, that offer more than 275 degree programs. FSU awards more than 2,000 graduate and professional degrees each year. New President Eric J. Barron has beefed up the school’s fundraising, raising more than $50 million for academics last year through the FSU Foundation.

FSU campus
Florida State University campus

» Florida A&M University — The historically black school has more than 10,500 full-time students and offers more than 100 bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It has a law school in Orlando and sites in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa for its pharmacy program. Research funding at the university now exceeds $50 million.

» Tallahassee Community College — The school, which primarily serves Leon, Gadsden and Wakulla counties, sends some 75% of its graduates on to Florida universities. It has around 15,000 full-time students and operates the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, a training facility for police and other law enforcement officers. It also recently opened the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, which will help train workers for local manufacturing and industrial businesses. In addition, Flagler College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Barry University and Saint Leo University hold classes at TCC and offer students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving the TCC campus.

FSU professor Robert Holton developed Taxol.

FSU’s research capacity is a major economic asset. While best known for professor Robert Holton’s development of Taxol, the cancer-fighting drug, the university’s research arms also encompass the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Center for Advanced Power Systems and Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion. The first two institutions are housed at Innovation Park, a 208-acre campus near the schools. FAMU and TCC are also active in research — the three schools recently secured a total of $17.5 million for defense-related research, including work related to electric ships, explosives detection and a training center at TCC.

The High-Performance Materials Institute at Florida State University develops cost-effective high-performance materials and systems. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]


In addition to the highly regarded Capital Health Plan, a regional HMO with 113,000 members and more than 400 employees, Tallahassee’s health sector includes Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, Florida’s seventh-largest hospital with nearly 3,500 employees, including 500 physicians, Capital Regional Medical Center and the 10-year-old FSU Medical School, which focuses on educating doctors to serve the state’s rural, geriatric and other underserved populations.

M1A2 Abrams Tank
General Dynamics Land Systems builds electronic
components for the M1A2 Abrams tank.

General Dynamics Land Systems employs more than 300 in Tallahassee building electronic components for the M1A2 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley infantry-fighting vehicle. In addition, a division of Elbit Systems manufactures and markets “rugged” communications products, including radios and computers, for both military and commercial customers. Near Tallahassee in Wakulla County,

St. Marks Powder, a division of General Dynamics, makes smokeless gun propellants.


Tourism officials claim nearly $1 billion in tourism spending and 15,000 tourism-related jobs. Much of that activity, however, is associated with the annual legislative session, and tourism officials are trying to boost visitor counts by building on the area’s history, natural assets and affinity for sports [“Sports Business”]. Mission San Luis is a striking reconstruction of one of a chain of missions the Spanish built in the 1600s. Along with the state Capitol, the area’s historical attractions include the John G. Riley Center/Museum of African American History and Culture and other African-American historical sites and archives. Nearby lakes, rivers, coastline and hills provide water-related recreational opportunities. Meanwhile, two new hotels, Aloft and the Hotel Duval, have beefed up the area’s 6,000-room capacity and provided some modern flavor to downtown, where the mainstay Governors Inn has been renovated. A convention center is high on the wish list for Visit Tallahassee.


Transportation and logistics are one of the Tallahassee Economic Development Council’s “targeted areas.” Slightly more than 30 flights a day — including a recently added U.S. Airways non-stop to Washington, D.C. — fly out of Tallahassee Regional Airport, but air service remains a challenge. Recent additions at the airport include a service center for Honda Jets, Piper, Cessna and Cirrus aircraft opened by aviation services provider Flightline Group, and the 189,000-sq.-ft. Airport Commerce Center.


Danfoss Turbocor
[Photo: Ray Stanyard]
» Danfoss Turbocor — The firm manufactures and markets ultra-efficient variable-speed air-conditioning compressors that are oil-less and almost frictionless. It sells worldwide. The company, which employs around 160, also operates an R&D lab at its facility in Innovation Park.

» Capital City Bank Group — The 68-office bank, one of the Florida Trend TopRank Top 25 Trust Banking Firms, has moved beyond its traditional regional identity to serve communities extending from Atlanta to Orlando.

» Brandt Information Services — This 25-year-old consulting business has grown rapidly in recent years to become one of the leading providers of labor market research and information technology services to state governments and private companies nationwide. Of particular note is the firm’s work in forecasting job growth in green industries and projects.

» Plantation area — Just north of Tallahassee are 300,000 acres of plantation land — an area of pine woods and rolling hills where wealthy northerners in the late 1800s assembled vast tracts they used to hunt turkey and quail. Many of the hunting plantations still exist, and about half the plantation acreage is under conservation easements. One former plantation, Tall Timbers, is now a nature preserve and research station that has gained an international reputation in controlled burning — “fire ecology” — and habitat management.

[Photo: Ray Stanyard]
» National High Magnetic Field Lab — The lab is the largest and highest powered magnet lab in the world and one of Florida’s premier research resources. The magnets and experimental techniques are applicable in physics, biochemistry, biomedicine and materials science. The lab draws scientists from around the world.

» Our Region Tomorrow — This regional visioning and planning group’s efforts encompass parts of both north Florida and south Georgia — one of the few such efforts that extend across state lines.

» Vision 2020 — A venture capital fund started by the county and other government groups such as the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, the Tallahassee-Leon County Economic Development Council and the FSU Foundation to develop the area’s research assets.

» Southwood — A planned community developed by St. Joe Co. with parks and its own “town center,” Southwood has energized development in the city’s southeast, a once-moribund area where the state has built a satellite office complex.


» Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion — This partnership among FSU, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was seeded with $15 million from the state and began construction on a 60,000-sq.-ft. headquarters facility in April. Researchers will explore “efficient and low emission propulsion systems for commercial and military aircraft” as well as machinery designs and aircraft powered by alternative fuels and power systems. FCAAP is headed by Farrukh Alvi.

Access Tallahassee
» Access Tallahassee — This 4-year-old networking group for young professionals is a key element in recruiting and retaining young professionals and keeping them integrated in the local business community.

» In August, Tallahassee Community College celebrated the official opening of its Advanced Manufacturing Training Center. The AMTC is envisioned as a unique training resource for local manufacturing and industrial businesses and will provide customized skills training for existing and emerging workforces. Its construction was funded in part by a $1.8-million grant from the Department of Defense and U.S. Army Research Office, and its 24,000 square feet includes practical hands-on training labs, classroom and conference space and a process development area for local entrepreneurial companies.

» Figg Engineering Group — The firm specializes in what it calls “bridges as art” and has designed spectacular spans all over the country, including the Sunshine Skyway across the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Biggest Employers

» State of Florida (non-university) 39,777

» Florida State University 8,784

» Leon County Schools 4,077

» Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare 3,480

» Florida A&M University 3,468

» City of Tallahassee 2,633

» Publix Supermarkets 2,000

» Wal-Mart Stores 1,900

» Leon County 1,522

» Tallahassee Community College 1,090

» Capital Regional Medical Center 878

» ACS 852

» Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center 672

» Capital City Bank Group 626

» Capital Health Plan 485

» Branch Banking & Trust Co. 403

» General Dynamics Land Systems 367

» St. Marks Powder 330

» Sodexho 300

» Westminster Oaks 300

Must Know Contacts

James Ammons
» David Alabed — Vice president of operations, Elbit Systems

» Parwez Alam — Leon County administrator

» James Ammons — As president of Florida A&M University, Ammons has moved to stabilize the school’s finances and has created a new doctorate program in physical therapy. He is a native Floridian and a FAMU graduate.

» Chucha Barber — CEO, Mary Brogan Museum

Eric J. Barron
» Eric J. Barron — The president of Florida State University and FSU grad is former director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Barron, a solid scientist and skilled fundraiser, became the school’s president in December 2009.

» Marc Bauer — General manager, Hotel Duval

» Matt Brown — President/CEO, Premier Bank

» Will Butler — Founder, Real Estate InSync

» Allen Byington — CEO, ElectroNet Broadband Communications; executive director, Big Bend Regional Healthcare Information Organization

» Richard Campbell — CEO, Applied Fiber

» Rick Carroll — Carroll and Co. CPAs

Sue Dick
» Van Champion — President, Childers Construction

»Lee Daniel — Executive director, Visit Tallahassee

» Sue Dick — President, Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Council

» Russell Daws — Executive director/CEO, Tallahassee Museum

» Bryan Desloge — County commissioner; president, Desloge Home Oxygen and Medical Equipment

» Pat Dorsey — Publisher, Tallahassee Democrat

Erin Ennis
» Pete Dunbar — Longtime Tallahassee insider is a partner in the law firm of Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar. Dunbar is highly respected for his knowledge of state politics.

» Timothy Edmond — President, CNL Real Estate & Development Corp.

» Erin Ennis — CFO, Residential Elevators

» Steve Evans — Interim president of FSU Foundation; retired IBMer who mentors young businesspeople

» Adam Faurot — CEO, Titus Sports Academy

» Linda Figg — President/CEO, Figg Engineering Group

Randy Hanna
» Richard Glass—- Manager, C.H. Robinson Worldwide

» Virginia Glass — Realtor

» Randy Hanna — The influential attorney and managing shareholder at Bryant Miller Olive chairs the Our Region Tomorrow group.

» Cynthia Hughes Harris — Provost, vice president for academic affairs, Florida A&M University

» April Herrle — President/COO, Salter Mitchell PR firm

» Lee Hinkle — The former vice president of university relations at FSU is well-connected in statewide political and local civic circles.

» John Hogan — CEO, Capital Health Plan

» Winston Howell — Managing partner and tax partner of accounting firm Thomas Howell Ferguson

» Rick Kearney—- Kearney founded computer reseller Mainline Information Systems in 1989 and has built the company into a multimillion-dollar powerhouse that’s among the state’s biggest 50 privately held companies and is also among Florida Trend’s Best Companies to Work For in 2010.

» Kirby Kemper — Vice president for research, Florida State University

» Beth Kirkland — Kirkland is executive director of the city’s Economic Development Council and a forceful advocate for expanding the city’s business base in six targeted areas.

» Chad Kittrell and J.T. Burnette — Partners, real estate development company Hunter & Harp Holdings

» Daniel Langston — President, Flightline Group

» Mark T. Llewellyn — President, planning and engineering firm Genesis Group

» Scott Maddox — Former mayor; president, Governance Inc.

» John Marks — Mayor

» Eric Miller — General manager, integrated communications company CenturyLink

» Karen Moore — Moore is founder and CEO of PR firm Moore Consulting Group and currently chairs the search committee looking for a new president for Tallahassee Community College

» Kimberly Moore — CEO, Workforce Plus

» Edward Murray — President, Talcor Commercial Real Estate Services

» Mark O’Bryant — President/CEO, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare

Sean Pittman
» Michael Parker — Director, City Economic Development Department

»Mike Pate — Program director, Knight Foundation

» Sean Pittman — Founder, Pittman Law Group

» Jackie Pons — Superintendent, Leon County Schools

» Bob Rackleff — Chairman, Leon County Commission

» Samuel Rogers Jr. — CEO, Rogers, Gunter, Vaughn Insurance

» Ron Sachs — The former journalist and communications director for late Gov. Lawton Chiles runs public relations firm Ron Sachs Communications.

bill Smith
Bill Smith
» Ricardo Schneider — President/CEO, Danfoss Turbocor

» Martin Shipman — CEO, Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic

» Bill Smith — Smith took over from his father, Godfrey Smith, in 1989, as head of Capital City Bank Group. Smith is chairman, president and CEO.

» Jay Smith — Vice president, Ajax Building

» Anita Favors Thompson — City manager, Tallahassee

» Glenda Thornton — Attorney, Bateman Harden; chair of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce

» Tripp Transou, Susie Busch Transou — Since buying Anheuser-Busch distributor Tri-Eagle Sales in 1996, the Transous have built the company’s market share and become hugely influential in all aspects of the city’s business, philanthropic and cultural life.

» Jeff Wahlen — Shareholder, Ausley & McMullen

» Kim B. Williams — Williams is president and majority owner of Marpan Recycling, which struck an agreement with the county that enables residents and businesses to recycle more material and enabled the county to essentially close its landfill. Williams is a founding member of the non-profit Sustainable Tallahassee group.

» Carla Willis — Vice president for university relations, FAMU

Quality of Life

» Strengths — Tallahassee is livable, affordable and attractive. It offers many amenities of a larger city, but the area immediately surrounding the city is rural with much natural beauty. Overall, the population is well-educated. Government creates a stable employment base.

» Weaknesses — Air service, high poverty rate, Southern racial dynamics and lack of a larger convention facility. The city’s downtown is attractive and historic, but the space is dominated by offices of professional groups.

Soul Report

A 2009 Knight Foundation report called “Soul of the Community” found that in Tallahassee, the most important things connecting people to the community are “social offerings (fun places to gather), openness (how welcoming the place is) and basic services (community infrastructure).”

The study found strengths in the community’s educational backbone, university resources and its physical beauty. The report found that Tallahassee’s residents felt the community was lacking in social offerings, the availability of basic services, particularly affordable housing, and openness, particularly toward gays and lesbians.

The people least likely to feel attached to Tallahassee, the survey noted, are younger, single, rural-dwelling and new residents — highlighting the challenges facing economic developers as they try to build the area’s non-government economy. “Increasing residents’ emotional attachment to where they live,” the Knight study found, “has a significant relationship to economic vitality.”


Challenger Learning Center planetarium
» Challenger Learning Center — This outreach facility of the joint FAMU-FSU engineering school uses aerospace and an IMAX theater to stimulate children’s interest in science and math.

» Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science — The facility is a Smithsonian Affiliate organization that combines hands-on science exhibits with art displays.

» Tallahassee Museum — Features historic buildings and nature exhibits [“A Taste of Tallahassee”]

» Museum of Florida History — The state history museum, with artifacts from Florida’s past

» FAMU Foster Tanner Fine Arts Gallery / FSU Museum of Fine Arts — Both facilities feature multimedia exhibitions across a broad range of styles and themes, along with international art competitions and student exhibitions.

» John G. Riley Center/Museum of African American History and Culture — The museum is housed in a downtown home that is a remnant of an African-American neighborhood from the 1800s.

» Boys’ Choir of Tallahassee — A program targeting at-risk young men, the choir performed at Walter Reed Medical Center during President Obama’s inauguration.

Boys' Choir of Tallahassee
Boys’ Choir of Tallahassee [Photo: Reggie Grant]

» Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra

» Tallahassee Ballet

» A group called the Florida Center for Performing Arts and Education, with a board headed by Bob Inzer, is trying to raise money to build a performing arts center near downtown. Fundraising efforts are headed by Campaign Executive Director Jean Frey.

Natural Resources

Leon County has 1,300 acres of open space, forest and woodlands between the Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway and J.R. Alford Greenway. In 2007, the city received the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials’ Environmental and Conservation Award for its exceptional effort to reclaim, restore, preserve, acquire or develop unique and natural areas.

» Wakulla Springs — One of the world’s largest freshwater springs is 15 miles south of Tallahassee in a state park.

» Maclay Gardens — The 1920s-era gardens are part of a 1,000-acre state park a few miles from downtown.


Leon County ranks 31st among Florida’s 67 counties in taxes levied per capita.


County and city governments have collaborated during the recession in seeking to stimulate the area’s economy. The county waived permit fees for the extension of environmental management permits and partnered with the city in helping to finance a downtown mixed-use retail and office building called Gateway Tallahassee. This year, the county created a countywide energy improvement district to help residents finance the weatherization of their homes and businesses and help create “green” jobs — the first such effort by a Florida county.


Crime fell between 2008-09 in Leon County. The county ranks 11th among Florida counties in crimes per 100,000 population, according to FDLE statistics.


The Leon County district is an “A”-rated district, with 33,000 students. In addition to traditional high schools, the district also offers a non-traditional magnet high school, Sail. Also, Lively Technical Center offers a broad range of career-oriented programs.


In measures of health in the county in which trends are identifiable, positive trends far outnumber the negative, including positive trends in coronary, lung cancer, breast cancer and stroke-related death rates. The county is among the “least favorable” in Florida in the incidence of HIV, gonorrhea and Chlamydia. The incidence of low birth-weight births is also high, but trends are positive in births to teens, premature births and the neonatal death rate.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is below the national average in Leon County, with an overall index rating of 94 (with 100 being average).

Why I Live Here

I am a third-generation Tallahassean who grew up here, spent 12 years away for college and professional opportunities, and chose to move home six years ago because I wanted to be part of something bigger. I wanted to be a part of the community that exists here — a sense of community I felt was lacking in larger cities like Washington, D.C., and Boston. It’s a city where the vast majority is trying to make it stronger and better. It’s a city whose leaders tend not to take themselves too seriously and who view humility as a virtue. It’s a city whose residents care deeply about family and also about those around them.

I choose to live in Tallahassee because it’s progressive in its thinking about tomorrow, yet traditional in its values, and is constantly growing in a way that makes us more than just a hub for state government and a place to attend college. While government and academia drive our economy, there is also an entrepreneurial spirit here that makes Tallahassee a rewarding place to do business. It has a diverse workforce, yet it’s a place where you typically know the person you pass on the sidewalk. And it has a strong sense of history that drives the culture of our community and makes me proud to call Tallahassee home.

— Emory Mayfield
Vice president of institutional lending
Capital City Bank