2018 Economic Yearbook
Northwest Florida: In 2018, economic strengths and challenges, people to watch
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.