April 16, 2024
EO NW 2022
"Despite COVID, people in 2021 were just determined to come to the beach," says Julian MacQueen, Chairman/Founder, Innisfree Hotels. "I call it revenge spending."

Photo: Innisfree Hotels

EO NW 2022
St. Joe Co.'s 255-room Embassy suites hotel in Panama City Beach will open in the first quarter.

Photo: St. Joe Hospitality

EO NW 2022
"For 2022, we’re targeting those states that have been on lockdown and companies looking to move south to Florida and specifically Northwest Florida," says Jennifer Conoley, President/CEO, Florida's Great Northwest.

Photo: Mike Fender | Florida's Great Northwest

EO NW 2022
The Pensacola Bay Bridge is on track for an early 2022 opening.
EO NW 2022
"We’ve been busier this past year than any in the last decade in terms of the number of proposed projects we’re working on," says Scott Luth, Presidednt/CEO, FloridaWest.

2022 Economic Outlook

Northwest Florida's economic forecast for 2022

Regional business leaders talk about the outlook for the year ahead, plus demographics and statistics

Carlton Proctor | 1/17/2022

Julian MacQueen

Chairman/Founder, Innisfree Hotels, Gulf Breeze

“In general, hotels in urban centers are not coming back anytime soon. Everybody is looking at 2024 for some kind of sustained recovery.

Those hotels not oriented toward the beach are going to suffer in 2022. They may get a little bit of lift this year, but not much. That’s mainly because business travelers are not back to the numbers prior to COVID.

But for beach-oriented hotels, our numbers in 2021 were well above 2019, which was a very strong year for the overall hotel industry. Last year’s surge was not the result of a higher numbers of occupants, but from higher rates. Occupancy across the board is down, but rates are up some 20%.

Despite COVID, people in 2021 were just determined to come to the beach. I call it revenge spending. It was driven in large part by cruises not being available and international travel restrictions for Americans and foreign tourists.

We are getting some advanced bookings in 2022 and are seeing a modest number of conventions coming back. While there are positive signs for 2022, we’re still looking at a 10% decrease over 2021 sales, which was an anomaly year.”

Hotel Development

  • St. Joe Co.’s 255-room Embassy Suites hotel in Panama City Beach will open in the first quarter. St. Joe’s second hotel, the 107-room Home2Suites, is scheduled to open in mid-2023.


  • North American Properties’ second phase of its Cascades project, an 11-story apartment and townhome complex in downtown Tallahassee, is expected to break ground in the second half of this year. The project initially calls for 161 apartments with the second phase adding another 169 units.

Jennifer Conoley

President /CEO, Florida’s Great Northwest (economic development agency covering a 12-county region), Niceville /Fort Walton Beach

“We’ve had a lot of successes this past year in attracting new industries, particularly in our rural counties. We’ve leveraged money from Triumph Gulf Coast and from local economic development councils to attract new industries and companies to this region. Triumph has really upped our game in a big way.

For 2022, we’re targeting those states that have been on lockdown and companies looking to move south to Florida and specifically Northwest Florida. It’s just a matter now of getting in front of these companies and getting them to come to Northwest Florida and see what we have to offer.

When looking forward into 2022, every single one of the 12 counties in Florida’s Great Northwest area has pending announcements of industry relocations or expansions. It’s our responsibility to bring ‘game changer’ projects to Northwest Florida.”

Amazon Warehouse

  • Amazon’s new 630,000-sq.-ft. robotics fulfillment center, announced in September, is expected to be completed late this year or early 2023. The $200-million facility in Tallahassee will create approximately 1,350 full-time jobs and 2,256 temporary construction jobs, with $167.6 million in annual wages.

Pensacola Airport

  • Construction is underway on ST Engineering’s second of four new jet aircraft, maintenance and repair hangars at the Pensacola International Airport. Completion of the 177,000-sq.-ft. facility, nearly identical in size to the first hangar, is expected by late this year.

Bridge Work

  • The second and final phase of the new $431-million Pensacola Bay Bridge is on track for an early 2022 opening. The bridge’s first phase, completed in the fall of 2019, was severely damaged during Hurricane Sally in 2020 and reopened in late May last year after repairs.

Hospital Expansion

  • Baptist Health Care’s $615-million, 50-acre hospital campus is more than halfway complete and on track to open in early 2023. The 264-bed hospital is the single largest and most expensive health care facility in Northwest Florida.

Matt Coughlin

Director, Pensacola International Airport, Pensacola

“For us, 2018 and 2019 were huge growth years. However, when the pandemic hit, our passenger numbers fell by 92% overnight.

But for Pensacola and the other Panhandle airports, passenger numbers really exploded in March and April and continued through Labor Day and into the fall. We were up by 25% over our record numbers in 2019, and whenever you’re up by 25% in a year, that’s a lot of growth.

I know Destin-Fort Walton and Panama City airport passenger counts were probably higher than ours because so much of their numbers are leisure travel. At the end of 2021, our numbers were still up by 10% to 20%.

I don’t know if you’re going to see in 2022 the same kind of passenger counts we had in 2021. But if we maintain the number of leisure travelers in 2022 that we saw in 2021, coupled with increased international travelers, Pensacola and the other airports in Northwest Florida could be through the roof in passenger growth. Overall, I think we’re going to hit about 2.2 million passengers for calendar year 2022, which is similar to our record year in 2019.”


David Bear

Vice President, Lewis Bear Co.; board member, Triumph Gulf Coast (non-profit corporation overseeing distribution of funds recovered by the state from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill)

“From the board perspective, our outlook for 2022 is great. Because of the annual Triumph Gulf Coast money, we are on the radar of industry site selectors around the country. Our No. 1 goal this year is to improve workforce development in all eight of the counties eligible for grants.

The Triumph board awarded over $100 million in job-producing grants in 2021 to Northwest Florida agencies, and we will have another $106 million come in annually from the BP settlement this year and every year until 2033.

More specifically, we’re supporting a joint aerospace scholarship program with ST Engineering and UPS that will place interns in the ST aircraft maintenance and overhaul operation at Pensacola International Airport.

Our Triumph board also is working with the state on a proposed $50-million port development project in Gulf County, as well as a recent $15.8-million grant to Santa Rosa County for its proposed Milton Interchange Commerce Park.”



  • Port Panama City has launched a $26-million expansion program for this year that will include a wood pellet storage dome to increase storage capacity for pellets produced in nearby Jackson County. The wood pellets are shipped to Central America for use in power generation. The port also is expanding its east terminal and building an intermodal distribution center to give importers and exporters more space to build distribution and storage warehouses.
  • Panama City is moving ahead with plans to build a $100-million performing arts center. Bay Economic Development Alliance is working with an out-of-state manufacturer with plans to invest in a $20-million facility and create some 200 jobs paying an average salary of $50,000.


  • The city of Pensacola and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos have signed an agreement to keep the Minor League Baseball team in the city for another 10 years. The Wahoos are a AA affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
  • The city of Pensacola is considering creating its own energy utility, similar to the energy company owned and operated by the city of Tallahassee.


  • Attempting to restore the shellfish industry, the state closed Franklin County’s famed Apalachicola Bay oyster beds indefinitely in 2020 after years of drought and other environmental pressures. Anticipating better times, the Florida Department of Agriculture, helped by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is investing money to create oyster aquaculture teaching programs for Franklin County high school students.


  • Local officials are encouraged by Eastern Ship Building’s presence at the Port of Port St. Joe. Eastern is building the “Sandy Ground” ferry boat and two other large ferries under a $257-million contract with the city of New York’s Staten Island Ferry service. The port also is handling Twin Rivers Land & Timber’s 60,000 tons of wood chips being shipped monthly to Honduras for power generation.


  • Cowan Systems will begin construction of a high-capacity trucking terminal in Marianna by the second quarter of this year. The new terminal is located at the Marianna/Jackson County Distribution Service Park adjacent to I-10. The Maryland company specializes in dedicated truckload, intermodal, warehousing, brokerage and driver staffing services throughout the U.S.


  • Tallahassee-based Danfoss Turbocor Compressors has begun building a $48-million expansion that will take place in two phases over the next five years. The company says the expansion will result in 239 jobs in manufacturing and research; 267 construction jobs; and more than 500 indirect permanent jobs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded Florida A&M University a five-year, $30-million grant to support environmental science studies.


  • Tampa-based Purple Square Management will begin building a 24,500-sq.-ft. commercial bakery and distribution facility at the Okaloosa Industrial Air Park early this year. The company, which operates Popeyes, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin’ and other chains in 10 states, is investing $4.5 million in the facility and plans to create 60 jobs.


  • Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office Director Shannon Ogletree says an official announcement is coming in February confirming the decision by a Fortune 500 company to locate a large distribution center in the county’s Northwest Florida Industrial Park.
  • Construction is underway on Leonardo Helicopters’ multi-million-dollar aviation maintenance facility at Whiting Aviation Park next to Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
  • By June, Gulf Cable expects to complete a $3-million, 160,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility next to its existing plant at the Santa Rosa Industrial Park near Milton. Gulf manufactures aluminum and copper insulated cables for use in utility projects and has more than 300 employees.


  • Taylor County commissioners are seeking $4.7 million in Florida Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration money to cover the cost of improvements to the Perry-Foley Airport.


  • Construction is underway on Walton County’s Northwest Florida Industrial Park near DeFuniak Springs. The $4.7-million project, financed by a combination of Triumph Gulf Coast and Restore Act money, is sited on 300 acres near I-10.

Scott Luth

President/CEO, FloridaWest (economic development alliance), Pensacola

“Looking back on 2021 and into 2022, one of the things COVID did is push a lot of inquiries from companies in states where they have shut down and are looking to move their operations to Northwest Florida.

We’ve been busier this past year than any in the last decade in terms of the number of proposed projects we’re working on.

Also, we’re seeing many local companies across the Northwest Florida region looking to expand their operations and production capacity due to supply chain problems. These companies have found they need more reliable supply chain systems and believe the best solution is to manufacture the parts they must have by expanding their local plant facilities.

As far as the big picture looking into 2022, we’re optimistic and have been working over the past 18 months with several very promising projects.

The companies we’re hearing from consistently are in manufacturing, aerospace/ aviation and cyber-security, all of which we believe have great opportunities to locate in Pensacola and throughout Northwest Florida.”

Tags: Northwest, Economic Outlook, Feature

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