October 6, 2022

Business Florida 2022 - The Regions


Bay • Calhoun • Escambia • Franklin • Gadsen • Gulf • Holmes • Jackson • Jefferson • Leon • Liberty • Okaloosa • Santa Rosa • Wakulla • Walton • Washington

| 11/8/2021

Technology & Innovation

Northwest Florida continues to grow its reputation as a leader in cybersecurity research, workforce education and professional training.

At the forefront of this effort is the University of West Florida, which in addition to offering cybersecurity degree programs and certificates across multiple disciplines is designated by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security as the “Southeast Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Regional Hub.”

In October 2020, UWF received a $6-million grant from the U.S. National Security Agency to lead 10 institutions designated as National Centers of Excellence in Cybersecurity to address the critical nationwide shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals. The UWF-led team, which includes Florida International University and the University of South Florida, focuses specifically on recruiting, preparing and placing former military and first responders into cybersecurity positions in critical infrastructure sectors, as well as personnel from the financial services, defense and energy sectors.

Elsewhere in the region:

• Florida State University has broken ground near Innovation Park on its 116,000-sq.-ft. Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building, which aims to move the field of material sciences forward as researchers from chemistry, physics, engineering and other scientific disciplines work together to create and advance new materials. Estimated opening: 2024.

• A team of 19 engineering students from Escambia High School in Pensacola captured NASA’s prestigious “Neil Armstrong Best Design Award 2020” for their construction of a compact, lightweight, two-person rover. The annual competition, which typically takes place on the punishing Rover Challenge course at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., was held virtually this year and drew 111 teams from 27 states and 11 countries.

KEY PLAYERS: AppRiver, Gulf Breeze; Bit-Wizards, Fort Walton Beach; Digital Boardwalk, Pensacola; Inspired Technologies, Tallahassee


Renewable Energy

Florida’s largest utility — Florida Power & Light Co. — is expanding solar energy production in Northwest Florida. Along with its partner, Pensacola-based Gulf Power, FPL plans eight solar sites across the region.

Blue Indigo Solar Energy Center began operations in Jackson County on April 1, 2020, and coming at the end of 2021 are Cotton Creek Energy Center in Escambia County and Blue Springs Solar Energy Center in Jackson County. Still in the very early stages of development are: Chipola River Solar Center and Flowers Creek Solar Center in Calhoun; First Solar Center in Escambia; Apalachee Solar Center in Jackson; and Blackwater River Solar Center in Santa Rosa.

Duke Energy, which serves eight counties in Northwest Florida, plans to build its Bay Ranch Solar Power Plant on 654 acres in Bay County. Estimated completion: December 2022.

KEY PLAYERS: Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.; Florida Power & Light Co., Juno Beach; Gulf Power, Pensacola



Northwest Florida is home to three of Florida’s 12 public universities, and they all secured a ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2022”: University of West Florida, No. 36; Florida State University, No. 58; and Florida A&M, No. 241. In addition, Florida A&M was ranked No. 3 among the nation’s top “Historically Black Colleges” by Niche in 2022, and Florida State was named No. 11 “Best Value College 2021” by The Princeton Review.

Across the region, state colleges were busy adding new facilities and programs:

• Pensacola State College opened its Baars Technology Building in April 2021. The 23,839-sq.-ft. facility is home to PSC’s STEM programs including cybersecurity, mathematics and computer science.

• Northwest Florida State College has received $7 million from Triumph Gulf Coast to fund its Aviation Center of Excellence. Over the next decade, the college estimates it will graduate more than 300 FAA-certified airframe technicians and more than 120 pilots.

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