Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Northwest Florida's economic outlook for 2021

FORECAST | Tourism

Ali Green, Associate Dean/Associate Professor, University of West Florida’s department of Global Hospitality & Tourism Management, Pensacola

“For the tourism industry in Northwest Florida there is no playbook at this point for dealing with the pandemic. I would say that those business owners that have developed a plan to be as flexible, creative and transparent as possible are coming out ahead.

I have noticed that some hotel owners are taking this opportunity to spruce up their hotels if they have the money.

But across the board, the luxury lodging sector is taking the biggest hit.

Fortunately, for the hospitality industry we’re in a bubble here in Northwest Florida. We are a drive market, and people are still driving here from New Orleans and Atlanta and other major southeastern cities. People still want to come to Northwest Florida and get away like they did before COVID.”


  • The first phase of the estimated $5-billion rebuild of Tyndall Air Force Base severely damaged in 2018 by Category 5 Hurricane Michael
  • Pensacola-based Baptist Health Care’s $615-million new hospital facility and campus
  • Phase two of the $400 million Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement and repair of the bridge damaged by Hurricane Sally, which has caused major traffic jams and significant economic impact on local Pensacola and Gulf Breeze businesses
  • Phase one of a three-stage, $210-million expansion of maintenance hangars at Pensacola International Airport
  • St. Joe Co.’s four new apartment communities in the Bay County region with a total of 877 units; four new hotels with a total of 678 rooms; and construction of Latitude Margaritaville Watersound, a major residential housing community
  • Fallchase, a 373-acre, 418-unit single family residential project in northeast Tallahassee

FORECAST | Housing

Jorge Gonzalez, President/CEO, St. Joe Co., Panama City Beach

FLORIDA TREND: What is your assessment of the current demand for housing across Northwest Florida?

JORGE GONZALEZ: “Demand for housing in Northwest Florida is high right now. New-home sales in 2020 significantly outpaced 2019 sales. We’re seeing healthy increases in demand for new single-family homes, apartment communities and workforce housing.”

FT: What is driving this demand?

JG: “Positive indicators include low interest rates and the rebuilding of Tyndall Air Force Base severely damaged by Hurricane Michael. We’re also seeing more people relocate to this area from all over the country, not just from the Southeast region as had been the case in the past.”

FT: How confident are you about the future of the Northwest Florida housing market?

JG: “Our confidence in Northwest Florida has led us to initiate several major projects, and in many cases accelerate plans for developing all of our residential, commercial and hospitality assets over the next several years.”

FORECAST | Finance/Banking

Alex Sanchez, President/CEO, Florida Bankers Association, Tallahassee

FLORIDA TREND: What role have banks played in helping businesses cope with the economic stresses caused by the pandemic?

ALEX SANCHEZ: “Banks in Northwest Florida and throughout the state have worked extremely hard this year to expedite loans under the federal Payroll Protection Program. PPP loans in Florida have brought $33 billion back to the state and saved a lot of small businesses.”

FT: How many small businesses were helped by the PPP loans?

AS: “Florida banks processed 393,000 PPP loans to small businesses, the second-highest number of PPP loans in the U.S.”

FT: What are you hearing from bank CEOs about the state’s economy and recovery going forward?

AS: “I’m in daily contact with bank CEOs, and they are cautiously optimistic about the economy, recovery and the month-over-month job numbers.”

FT: What do you want to see Congress do now to help Northwest Florida’s small businesses?

AS: ”I’m hoping Congress will pass an automatic forgiveness of PPP loans under $150,000. Most PPP loans in Northwest Florida were less than $120,000.”



  • The Calhoun Liberty Hospital Association has received $11.4 million from FEMA for repair and rebuilding of the hospital severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018.


  • Port St. Joe Port Authority has won a contract to export some 100,000 tons of wood chips to Honduras for use in power generation. The chips are being produced largely from timber that cannot be used in construction. Gulf County Economic Development Coalition Director Jim McKnight says after the initial shipment, the contract calls for shipping some 60,000 tons of wood chips per month.


  • Jackson County has received $2.6 million from the U.S. Commerce Department to construct facilities and improve infrastructure at the Jackson County Industrial Park. The grant will be matched with $2 million in state funding. Together the improvements are expected to create 200 jobs and spur some $2 million in private investment.
  • Catalyst Fabric Solutions recently received certification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to produce isolation gowns for health care workers at its Marianna Commerce Park. The certification, according to Catalyst, will lead to the creation of 125 jobs, boosting Catalyst’s workforce to 275 jobs.


  • Jefferson County is installing broadband internet services to a large, underserved area of the county. The $1.27-million project is being funded through the Restore Act established by Congress as a result of a settlement with BP and other parties associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


  • American Elite Personal Protective Equipment is manufacturing material that goes into filters for face masks at its new 14,000-sq.-ft. facility in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park. The new operation is expected to create some 50 jobs over the next two years.


  • Lovell Government Services, a veteran-owned pharmaceutical and medical device company, has received approval from Santa Rosa County commissioners to build a 100,000-sq.-ft. distribution facility in the county’s I-10 Industrial Park. Based in Pensacola, the company was founded in 2013 by Marine veteran Chris Lovell.


  • The multi-phase $187.5-million project to improve water quality discharge at Georgia-Pacific’s Foley Cellulose plant near Perry has been completed. The improvements have resulted in substantial decreases in the mill’s discharge of manufacturing effluent into the Fenholloway River that flows into the Gulf of Mexico.


Read more in Florida Trend's January issue.
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