Quint Studer’s Southtowne apartment complex is going up on the former site of the Pensacola News Journal.
PENSACOLA / ESCAMBIA COUNTY
CHALLENGE: Downtown Redevelopment
For decades, downtown Pensacola witnessed a steady decline in residents and visitors, in large part because of scarce affordable housing, limited retail shopping and meager entertainment and recreational venues.
Today, downtown Pensacola’s residential population is growing rapidly, and its commercial core is undergoing a sustained renaissance, thanks to several local investors and an improved economic climate.
During the first quarter of 2018, more than $100 million in construction was completed downtown, including a $53-million, 252-unit apartment complex and $15-million office building, both developed by Quint Studer.
Other recently completed projects include a $14-million bank building and a 106-room Holiday Inn Express.
Driving the building boom is a robust sense of “capital and confidence among developers eyeing new investment opportunities in downtown Pensacola,” says Scott Luth, president and CEO of FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance.
Following Studer’s lead, outdoor sign magnate Bobby Switzer is moving forward with a multi-million-dollar renovation and redesign of two centuryold buildings in the heart of downtown Pensacola.
Switzer recently rolled out phase one that includes several new retail storefronts. His multiyear plans also include professional offices and residential condominium units.
CHALLENGE: Public Health
Public health issues such as obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and tobacco use continue to adversely affect Escambia County’s health outlook.
The county fell from 55th to 58th in the Florida Department of Health’s 2017 community health survey rankings.
Dr. John Lanza, director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia, says one of the major reasons for the health disparities across the region is a higher level of poverty from county to county.
“A lot of what we see as far as health outcomes go … can be explained by the stress associated with poverty, including lack of exercise and lack of good nutrition,” Lanza says.
According to the report, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its partners, 27% of children in Escambia County live in poverty, compared to 17% in neighboring Santa Rosa County.
On a positive note, Baptist Health Care and Sacred Heart Health System have launched an initiative working with local businesses to encourage healthy lifestyles, promote exercise and discourage tobacco use among their employees.
CHALLENGE: Public Safety/ Crime
A renewed focus on community engagement, neighborhood patrols and advertising campaigns have contributed to double-digit declines in crime in both Escambia County and Pensacola.
Major crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft dropped 14% countywide and more than 10% in Pensacola, according to data released in 2017 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The most impressive declines were in burglaries, which fell by 650 cases from the previous year, and larceny cases, which dropped by 1,334.
Escambia County’s 15.6% reduction in crimes is in part because of “continued engagement with residents through community policing, our billboard campaigns and commercials,” says Sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Andrew Hobbs.
Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter says the 10% decline in crimes puts the city at its lowest overall crime rate in decades.
TALLAHASSEE / LEON COUNTY
CHALLENGE: Downtown Redevelopment
A downtown Tallahassee building boom that began in earnest in 2017 shows no signs of slowing this year.
At the end of last year, the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality reported that more than 120 major projects, including hotels and apartment complexes, were either under construction or were being reviewed for permitting.
Major developments in the city’s commercial core include the Cascades Project, a $158-million mixed-use complex that will include apartments, townhouses, a restaurant, a five-story hotel and commercial office space across a two-block site.
The developer, North American Properties, estimates Cascades will create some 2,900 jobs.
The other big project moving forward, although still in the planning and development stage, is the Arena District, an initiative of Florida State University. FSU’s plans call for a convention center, a hotel and relocating the FSU College of Business. The Arena design phase should be complete in the next 2½ years, FSU officials say.
CHALLENGE: Public Safety/ Crime
For the third consecutive year, the Leon County metro area has posted the highest crime rate in the state, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Despite a drop of 11% in violent crimes, property crimes rose 7%, keeping Leon atop the crime rate statistics among metropolitan counties.
Crime in the Tallahassee/Leon area was measured at a rate of 5,655 per 100,000 residents, an increase over the previous year’s rate of 5,294, according to the FDLE.
First-year Sheriff Walt Mc- Neil says the FDLE report was no surprise.
“Obviously, we can’t continue to do the same things we have been doing for the last three years. Something’s not been effective,” says McNeil.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has launched an initiative to place more police on street patrol and increase community engagement. The city also plans to expand the city’s summer jobs program for underprivileged youth.
The time and expense of getting to and from Tallahassee by air, especially from South Florida’s major metro areas, has been a continuing source of concern for local officials and business leaders.
However, in 2017 the cityowned and operated Tallahassee International Airport saw progress.
In February, American Airlines launched a daily flight from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C. Last fall, Elite Airways added service to Sarasota and Vero Beach. Passenger traffic rose 8.2% during the last three months of 2017.
City officials also are working on a plan called Airport Gateway, an effort between the city and Florida State University. FSU spokesman Kevin Graham says the university is partnering with the city on major improvements along a corridor from FSU’s main campus to its 900-acre southwest campus and the airport.
PANAMA CITY / BAY COUNTY
CHALLENGE: Economic Development
Northwest Florida business leaders have worked diligently to attract aerospace industries to the Panhandle, home to five major Air Force and Navy bases, a large pool of trained aircraft technicians, plenty of land and relatively low cost of doing business.
Last year, Bay County officials announced that GKN Aerospace would build a $50-million manufacturing facility at Venture Crossings, an industrial park located at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
Becca Hardin, president of Bay Economic Development Alliance, says the 135,000-sq.-ft. facility, completed in December, is in the process of hiring approximately 170 employees at an average salary of $65,000.
The maintenance facility was financed and constructed by St. Joe Co., which is leasing the building to GKN. St. Joe owns Venture Crossings.
FORT WALTON BEACH / OKALOOSA COUNTY
CHALLENGE: Economic Development
Economic development agencies in Northwest Florida know all too well having shovel-ready industrial sites, with infrastructure already in place, is critical for development.
With that in mind, Okaloosa County commissioners recently purchased 1,600 industrialzoned acres within the 10,500- acre Shoal River Ranch, owned by the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation of Boise, Idaho. Located on U.S. 90, seven miles south of downtown Crestview, the site fronts I-10, has CSX railroad access and power and gas lines.
Despite those pluses, the property lacks water and sewer lines, the nearest of which are four miles to the east. Nathan Sparks, executive director of Okaloosa’s Economic Development Council, says he is encouraged by the county’s recent application to Triumph Gulf Coast for $1.5 million to cover the cost of extending the water and sewer lines.
“Thankfully, Triumph funding is a solution that appears both appropriate and attainable in the relative near term,” says Sparks.
People to Watch
Jennifer Conoley: As economic development representative for Gulf Power, Conoley, based in Panama City, helps promote Northwest Florida businesses and industries. Conoley, 34, recently was named to Development Counsellors International’s “40 Under 40” global list of rising stars who have made “exceptional contributions to the economic development industry.”
Devin Stephenson: President of Northwest Florida State College, Stephenson has initiated an effort to establish three distinct academic “Centers of Excellence” at NFSC and also has launched a substantial cost-cutting campaign at the Niceville-based college. Stephenson serves on the board of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities and the steering committee for the Florida College System Council of Presidents.
Dawn Kernagis: A research scientist with the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition, Kernagis was one of six crew members who participated in NASA’s Undersea Mission in a simulated spacecraft to study and evaluate tools and techniques being tested for future space exploration. She is considering applying for NASA’s astronaut program.
Dr. Jake Vanlandingham: An assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Florida State University, Vanlandingham is the founder and president of Prevacus, a biopharmaceutical company spun off from his research at FSU’s College of Medicine. The company’s key drug, Prevasol, is a neurosteroid that has been specifically developed for the immediate treatment of athletes, accident victims and others who suffer a concussion.
Mindy Perkins: Perkins is CEO of Tallahassee-based VR Systems, an elections software company. Perkins oversees the production of a wide range of products, including the EViD, an electronic pollbook that was utilized extensively in the 2016 general election, and Voter Focus, a voter registration and management software system.
County Population: 187,525, +7.2% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 17.7%
Per Capita Income: $42,662
The Department of Defense has approved Eastern Shipbuilding Group’s initial design for a new U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Eastern executives say the first phase of construction will begin this summer. The $10-billion, multi-year contract is expected to create 1,000 jobs in Bay County.
County Population:14,876, +1.7% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 3.5%
Per Capita Income: $26,010
Calhoun County officials say they are optimistic the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will approve spending $2.4 million to expand water and sewer lines from Blountstown to a nearby industrial park.
County Population: 16,668, +4.5% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 13.3%
Per Capita Income: $27,394
Dixie Aviation partnered in March with the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce to host the 2018 Cross City Airport Fly-in and Business Expo. The annual fly-in attracted several thousand visitors to the Cross City Airport, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The event also included a classic car show.
County Population: 316,629, +2.9% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages/Salaries: 12.9%
Per Capita Income: $41,809
Texas-based home builder D.R. Horton recently closed on 17 acres near the sprawling Navy Federal Credit Union campus west of Pensacola. Homes will range from $179,000 to $239,000. Horton also is developing five acres in downtown Pensacola.
County Population: 12,195, +5.5% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 0.2%
Per Capita Income: $36,151
A 251-acre oyster bed restoration project launched in early 2017 delivered disappointing results because of a severe lack of fresh water from the Apalachicola River, says county spokesman Alan Pierce. The reduced flow of fresh water from Alabama and Georgia uplands into Apalachicola Bay is the source of a long-running legal battle among the three states.
County Population: 46,608, +1.2% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 10.2%
Per Capita Income: $33,435
Gadsden County is partnering with Gulf, Franklin and Liberty counties to form a Gulf to Gadsden Freight Logistics Zone. The goal of the zone is to promote, plan and fund infrastructure improvements to connect rail and highways from landlocked northern counties south to Gulf-front counties with deep-water access.
County Population: 16,199, +2.6% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 10.1%
Per Capita Income: $32,544
A major road improvement project at the Port of Port St. Joe has been completed. The project connects the former Arizona Chemical site to a former paper mill site that has deep-water access. Warren Yeager, executive director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, says the road initially will benefit International Wood Group’s shipments of wood pellets.
County Population: 19,876, +1.2% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 8.2%
Per Capita Income: $29,294
A proposed sale of a 409-acre farm to Las Vegas-based Abundant Farms has fallen through, says Raymon Thomas, executive director of the Holmes County Development Commission.
County Population: 49,619, +1.3% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 7.3%
Per Capita Income: $32,726
Marianna-based Safari Helicopter has expanded its international reach, forging a dealership agreement with HeliRussia AviaMaster, headquartered in Moscow, say owners Bobby and Delane Baxter. Safari saw a marked growth in 2017 for its helicopter kits, and, as a result, expanded its workforce.
County Population:14,507, +2.3% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 4.7%
Per Capita Income: $38,186
Madison Oaks Farm, east of Monticello, is processing cattle from land acquired and cleared in 2017. John Todd, director of ranch operations, says the farm is raising grass-fed and grass-finished beef cattle. The farm is a key supplier for Jacksonville-based Bubba Burger.
County Population: 8,897, +0.5% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 6.8%
Per Capita Income: $23,795
In an effort to stimulate business expansion and job growth, Lafayette County commissioners have voted to join the North Florida Economic Development Partnership. The Tallahasseebased non-profit, supported by local government, state grants and private-sector contributions, is comprised of 15 counties in North-Central Florida.
County Population: 295,546, +4.7% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 14.2%
Per Capita Income: $42,954
Foot Locker and Toys R Us have closed their stores in Tallahassee. Foot Locker shuttered its store at Governor Square mall, and Toys R Us closed its Apalachee Parkway location.
County Population: 8,631, +3.9% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 6.1%
Per Capita Income: $28,314
Local officials say they are “very close” to announcing the location of a major forest products company in Liberty County.
County Population: 18,549, —0.9% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 9.2%
Per Capita Income: $31,504
Madison County has bought two sites totaling 90 acres that straddle I-10 and will be incorporated into the county’s industrial park. “This additional acreage allows for larger footprint projects that need immediate I-10 access,” says Crawford Powell, the county economic development consultant.
County Population: 203,517, +5.2% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 12.0%
Per Capita Income: $49,402
Discount airline Allegiant is adding flights to Bentonville, Ark., Concord, N.C., Lexington, Ky., Evansville, Ind., and Raleigh, N.C., from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. The airline also plans to base two Airbus planes at the airport.
Santa Rosa County
County Population: 177,866, +10.7% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 19.3%
Per Capita Income: $42,932
Gulf Breeze has submitted an application to the Triumph Gulf Coast board for some $15.8 million that would provide partial funding for two large-scale redevelopment projects. The $21-million plan calls for the city and local school district to swap land to develop a town center in the heart of Gulf Breeze.
County Population: 22,864, —0.1% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 1.2%
Per Capita Income: $31,790
Georgia Pacific is upgrading its pulp mill in Taylor County at a cost of $250 million, says Perry City Manager Bob Brown. Florida Natural Technologies is scheduled to break ground in early April on a woodprocessing plant. The plant is expected to create about 100 jobs.
County Population: 33,174, +7.1% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 23.0%
Per Capita Income: $35,179
Wakulla-based Hydra Engineering has been named one of 50 Florida Companies to Watch by GrowFL, a statewide economic development group associated with the Edward Lowe Foundation. Hydra specializes in civil engineering services.
County Population: 69,382, +16.8% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 32.3%
Per Capita Income: $54,483
County commissioners have submitted a grant application to Triumph Gulf Coast for $25 million that would provide partial funding to expand water and sewer lines along U.S. 231 and U.S. 90. If approved, Walton County would have to provide matching funds of $17 million toward the estimated $42-million project cost.
County Population: 25,164, +2.3% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 6.4%
Per Capita Income: $29,303
Washington County commissioners approved last fall a new ordinance that allows the sale of beer and wine within 500 feet of churches and schools. The residential distance restriction has been eliminated from the ordinance.
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