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Big Bend Yearbook 2009

Big Bend area of Florida

"The healthcare sector both locally and statewide continues to be the sole industry that generates jobs at a steady pace."Kimberly Moore, CEO, Workforce Plus Regional Workforce Development Board

Tallahassee / Leon County

See population, income and job statistics from this region.
State government and two universities, along with the healthcare and defense sectors, are providing a degree of job stability for Leon County, reflected in its low 6% unemployment rate, says Beth Kirkland, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County.

The real estate and construction sectors are less upbeat: Leon County single-family home sales for 2008 dropped to the lowest level since at least 1996. And the county schools system is grappling with budget cuts that could hit $16 million and may prompt the district to close some schools.

Chris Rey
Chris Rey’s Tai Yang Research in Tallahassee makes equipment that helps keep ships safe from mines. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
“Our ability to find that balance between services provided vs. tax burden is becoming harder and harder to manage,’’ says County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge. None of the options, he says — cutting services, eliminating programs and/or staff, finding alternative revenue streams or raising taxes — are easy decisions.

Business to Watch

» Brandt Information Services in Tallahassee, a 24-year-old information technology company, increased sales by 10% last year and added 20 employees; 100 now work there. Owners John Thomas and Richard Wise expect to add another 20 to 25 employees this year. “Brandt is thriving because we help organizations and individuals succeed, which has proven especially relevant in this economic environment,” says Wise. “Technology, if executed properly, increases efficiency and promotes organizational and economic growth.” Among Brandt services: IT projects and staffing, mobile solutions and labor market research.

Person to Watch

» Chris Rey, president of Tai Yang Research Co., and his five full-time employees — all graduates of Florida State University, where Rey received a doctorate in physics — landed their biggest government contract award to develop high-temperature superconducting equipment for the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The equipment will lessen ships’ vulnerability to magnetic mines. Tai Yang’s revenue was up more than 50% last year.

Hamilton / Suwannee / Madison Counties ?

A plan by chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride to lay off 505 employees this spring, one-third of the workforce at its Live Oak plant, is reverberating through the three counties, which are home to many plant workers. In the wake of Pilgrim’s move, dozens of chicken producers have closed down their operations. “It’s a domino effect,’’ says Suwannee County Economic Alliance President Dennis Cason, affecting employees, producers and banks. Hamilton County is hoping to get some good news from a Virginia-based wind and solar power systems manufacturer that plans to set up a production center. The Florida Energy and Climate Commission has approved $2.5 million for ARI Green Energy. The company is awaiting word on additional state incentives for the plant, which would create 175 jobs.

Lafayette / Columbia Counties Counties

Who's Hiring
» General Dynamics Land Systems in Tallahassee has hired 220 since last June and expects to hire another 20 in the second quarter. The plant makes electronic boxes for military combat vehicles. It currently employs 350. New hires include 12 engineers and assembly line workers.
In Lafayette County, Mayo Correctional Institute state prison will add 300 jobs when it completes an expansion next spring to accommodate 1,300 more inmates. Columbia County, meanwhile, gained 590 jobs last year, boosted by a new Target distribution center, a United States Coal Storage distribution center, Publix and Foodline stores and two new hotels. Other businesses, however, have downsized as housing sales and construction have stalled, says Jim Poole, executive director of the Lake City-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce/Development Authority.

Project to Watch

» The 2,500-acre R.O. Ranch Equestrian Park, operated by the Suwannee River Water Management District, expects to complete a phase one expansion by the fall, adding a visitors center, 30-unit RV campground, outdoor arena and 20-mile Steinhatchee River trail.

Jefferson / Gadsden / Wakulla Counties ?

Kimberly Moore
As CEO of Workforce Plus, Kimberly Moore works with community and educational leaders in Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla counties. [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
The January shutdown of mushroom producer Quincy Farms, one of Gadsden County’s largest employers, put 490 people on the unemployment rolls. Jefferson County has seen unemployment and foreclosure rates double in the past 12 months. It’s developing plans to make property it purchased at the Wacissa River headwaters tourist-ready. Wakulla County also is re-emphasizing eco-tourism and working to encourage cooperative agriculture.

Business to Watch

» Shields Marina, a 500-slip boat sales and storage business at St. Marks, opened a 6,000-sq.-ft. boating supplies store in March as it continues to recover and rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. “People are still using boats some, but not like in the past,’’ says owner and St. Marks Mayor Chuck Shields.

Taylor / Gilchrist Counties ?

Leaders are using the economy’s down time to lay plans for a more competitive future. Taylor County is wrapping up its Vision 2060, and Gilchrist recently formed a vision committee for a 30-year look ahead. “Most of our young people have to travel outside the county to work,’’ says Kyle Stone, executive director of the Gilchrist Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority.

Business to Watch

» Stephanie and Paul Metts plan to convert a 1925 icehouse they recently bought in Trenton’s historic district into a business for craft enterprises and an antique shop. It would be their third historic conversion. A 1910 dry goods store is now a frame and stained glass shop and a classroom. Their initial purchase, a 1925 Coca-Cola bottling company, vacant for 33 years, now houses the Suwannee Valley Quilt Shoppe and the Suwannee Rose Cafe — and is the centerpiece of an annual crafts and quilt festival.

MSA Jan. 2008 Jan. 2009 % Change Jobless Rate
178,200 173,900 -2.4% 6.6%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Single-family, existing-home sales by Realtors
MSA Jan. 2009 Sales 1-Year Change Jan. 2009 Price 1-Year Change
Tallahassee /

83 -31% $161,300 -18%
Source: Florida Association of Realtors

 2.4% or higher  1.0% - 2.4%  1.0% or less
COUNTY 2009 Average Annual Growth
2005-2009 Trend
71,004 2.65%
47,849 0.96
17,582 2.02
14,737 1.61
14,894 0.85
8,176 1.02
271,418 1.67
19,298 0.63
40,737 1.74
20,091 0.79
Wakulla 31,188 2.99
Florida 18,898,835 1.60%

Years of Age (2009)
County 0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+ Total
18.4% 6.3% 28.3% 31.8% 15.2% 71,004
20.3 6.4 27.4 32.8 13.1 47,894
17.9 7.5 29.5 29.4 15.7 17,582
17.7 5.7 31.9 32.6 12.1 14,737
15.7 5.4 27.6 36.2 15.1 14,894
16.3 5.6 36.5 29.5 12.2 8,176
17.68 8.4 33.6 30.4 10.0 271,41
17.3 7.0 29.2 31.1 15.4 19,298
18.6 5.8 26.3 30.9 18.3 40,737
Taylor 17.7 5.9 27.5 33.5 15.4 20,091
Wakulla 16.4 5.8 30.2 35.2 12.4 31,188
Florida 18.0% 6.3% 25.8% 32.7% 17.2% 18,898,835

COUNTY Per Capita Income 2009 Source of Income
Labor Property Transfer
$25,060 66.7% 14.1% 19.2%
27,498 65.1 16.0 19.0
27,083 69.9 11.0 19.1
18,840 64.1 11.0 24.8
29,386 68.1 14.4 17.5
17,505 66.2 12.6 21.2
36,804 81.0 17.1 1.9
23,333 60.6 13.3 26.2
26,029 59.1 14.4 26.4
27,185 65.5 13.4 21.1
Wakulla 27,842 73.8 12.3 13.9
Florida $40,331 67.6% 23.6% 8.8%