September 2019 Letter – Community & Economic Development

Sandy SimsI’m so excited to welcome you to the fall edition of our Community & Economic Development Newsletter. While I may be a new face at the top of this newsletter, I’m not a new face to many of you. I have recently moved to the newly created position of director of external relations. In this role, I have the privilege of providing leadership and strategic coordination within the community development, community relations, economic development, major accounts and external affairs team at Gulf Power. Our team is comprised of experienced and committed employees who work to build and grow vibrant, thriving communities in partnership with you every day.

As part of the NextEra Energy family, Gulf Power now has one of the world’s largest energy companies behind us to help us achieve our goals.

We’re excited to be part of a company that’s the largest generator of wind and solar energy in the world. Renewable energy is absolutely an important and growing part of our energy mix. We are developing a large-scale solar energy center in Jackson County and have two more solar energy centers in development across Northwest Florida. Each of these projects create up to 250 construction jobs and inject dollars in the local economies from workers buying goods and services.

In this newsletter you’ll read about how we are also leveraging our new family ties by partnering with our sister utility Florida Power & Light at the Paris Air Show. We have great news about how regional partnerships can pay big dividends when it came to supporting a grant to improve Jackson County’s internet connection that will help it with its economic goals. And, there’s good news about tourism and the housing market for our region.

We’re also excited to host the 23rd Economic Symposium next year on Feb. 27-28. Our annual signature event focused on strengthening collaboration to bring economic success across Northwest Florida will again be held at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort. The team is working hard to put together another action-oriented and forward-thinking agenda – you won’t want to miss it! Registration will be open in October.

If you have thoughts about how Gulf Power can better support your efforts or ideas for community collaboration, please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to hearing from you as we continue to guide and shape the bright future of Northwest Florida.

Director of External Relations
Gulf Power

Northwest Florida’s economic developers focus on business attraction this summer

Gulf Power was among the partners who executed two major business development missions over the summer with the goal of attracting new business interests, investments and jobs to Northwest Florida. Gulf Power joined Florida’s Great Northwest and PowerSouth to lead these efforts working in tandem with the local economic development organizations throughout the region.

Investment Summit

The SelectUSA Investment Summit is dedicated to promoting foreign direct investment in the United States. More than 3,100 attendees and nearly $100 million in new investment projects were announced at this year’s event held in Washington, D.C. In total, 1,200 business investors from 79 international markets joined economic developers from 49 states and territories.

Senior government officials, business executives and other thought leaders attend the summit to collaborate with economic development leaders across the United States and discover opportunities for investment. Northwest Florida’s delegation consisted of Kim Wilmes, Florida’s Great Northwest; Verdell Hawkins, Gulf Power; and Danita Andrews, FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance. The delegation met with 24 companies interested in locating in the U.S. and out of those meetings, seven active job-creation projects were generated and 10 leads were identified. Companies interested in learning more about the region ranged from industry sectors including food manufacturing and automotive and aviation parts manufacturing to IT and clean technology.

Paris Air Show

NWFL Delegation
Northwest Florida economic developers gather at the PoweringFlorida booth at the Paris Air Show

Another group of economic developers traveled to France in June to attend one of the world’s largest international aerospace events, the Paris Air Show. This was the 53rd PAS and more than 2,450 companies exhibited from 49 countries. The show offers an ideal place for meetings and a strong platform for trade, with over $140 billion worth of orders placed during the show. This year’s delegation included Rick Byars and Jennifer Conoley, Gulf Power; Scarlett Phaneuf, PowerSouth; Scott Luth, FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance; Shannon Ogletree, Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office; Nathan Sparks, Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County; and Becca Hardin and Garrett Wright, Bay Economic Development Alliance.

Between the regional and local delegation, 53 meetings were held during the week in Paris with key leaders in the aerospace industry. During these meetings, the topics included the region’s strategic location for aerospace growth, the transformational opportunity with Triumph Gulf Coast and the strong business climate in the region and state.

Jamal Sowell
Jamal Sowell, President and CEO of Enterprise Florida, speaks at the Florida Pavilion Inauguration at the Paris Air Show

New to this year’s show was Gulf Power’s opportunity to join sister utility Florida Power & Light in the PoweringFlorida booth within the Florida Pavilion. This partnership was created by FPL three years ago to allow local economic development organizations within their territory to partner with FPL and have visibility during the air show through a booth presence as well as access to a private conference room for meetings. Gulf Power joined the partnership, allowing the local organizations in Northwest Florida to benefit from the same visibility and adding even more value to efforts at the show.

Since these two events, the team of economic developers remain steadfast in growing these relationships, leads and projects into fruitful opportunities for Northwest Florida.

Gulf Power External Affairs team helps connect Jackson County

Hit hard by Hurricane Michael nearly a year ago, financially strapped Jackson County is still working to recover. But its officials identified one project that could have sweeping benefits for improving its economy, education system and public safety beyond hurricane recovery.

County officials reached out to Sandy Sims, Gulf Power director of external relations, for help in securing $30,000 in grants to conduct a study to improve the broadband internet connectivity throughout the county.

The county’s goal is to use the study to apply for available grants to install high-speed fiber optic internet service and communications towers, something the rural county is lacking.

Sims’ Economic Development team member Tracy Andrews worked through Opportunity Florida to work out a partnership with Florida Public Utilities (FPU), another electric utility in Jackson County, to match the Gulf Power $15,000 grant and secure the total grant request.

“This is a great example of how collaboration can make things happen,” Sims said. “Gulf Power has a long history of supporting economic growth and local projects that improve the lives of those living in the communities we serve. We believe this project will help Jackson County become stronger, enhance the quality of life for residents and attract new businesses.”

The internet connectivity issue in the county impairs many important activities.

Three years ago students were issued electronic tablets — but many of them could not use them because they lacked internet service at home. Others who had internet access could not conduct research on the tablets because of slow internet service.

Tracy Andrews
Tracy Andrews & Commissioner Jim Peacock

Many of the rural law enforcement, firefighters and medical responders lack appropriate communications systems. And county officials say a fiber optic system would help small incorporated communities like many of those in Jackson County compete for industry and business.

During the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Aug. 13 meeting, Andrews represented the economic development team when the board recognized Gulf Power’s support.

“This project could radically change the county by enhancing education, farming, law enforcement and emergency services,” Commissioner Jim Peacock said.

Panhandle Progress: 2019 — Year of Growth

Florida Panhandle improvement graphic

If the number of out-of-state license plates on vehicles exploring our region is an economic barometer, then it appears Northwest Florida is having a banner tourism season. This is just one indication about how well our Northwest Florida economy is doing. Some important 2019 indicators — air travel and home sales — for Northwest Florida are trending well for our economy.

Gone are the concerns of oil on our beaches and the lasting effects. Replacing it are scores of visitors from around the country and the world that are flocking here to vacation along our beautiful beaches, some made aware of the area because of the marketing efforts following the oil spill. Regardless, we welcome them to the Emerald Coast and thank them for spending their time and treasure at our hotels, in our shops and restaurants and enjoying our attractions and assets.

Among the assets that have benefitted from marketing efforts aimed at growing the tourism industry are the three airports serving Pensacola, Destin and Fort Walton Beach and the Panama City area. Through June, each location is reporting double-digit increases in total passengers served.

Total Passengers Served YTD (thru June ’19)
Airport 2018 2019 % Change
Pensacola 931,412 1,085,045 +16.49%
Destin-FWB 646,584 780,221 +20.67%
Panama City 514,145 629,176 +22.37%

And the Pensacola International Airport also reported reaching the 2 million passengers mark this fiscal year, as of August. Airport Director Dan Flynn told the Pensacola News Journal the airport has been hitting records since October 2017, a milestone that illustrate the summer will end on a high note.

“All-in-all, the economy in Northwest Florida is trending nicely,” said President of Visit Pensacola Steve Hayes said. “The efforts the NWFL region has made to entice travel and spread the word about our area is evident when you look at the latest number of visitors. The Pensacola Bay Area is seeing the ripple effect of a community that loves to live here.”

With so many visitors to our area, it’s easy to consider that other aspects of our local economies have seen increases as well, such as home sales and prices. In fact, throughout Northwest Florida the demand for housing has been strong.

For example, in the greater Panama City area homes sales for the first six months of 2019 were up 15.5% year over year. That represents sales of more than 2,000 homes from January through June. And, not only has there been an increase in overall sales numbers, but the average median sales price for a home in the area is up 1.1% over the same period last year. Of course, much of this demand is a result of Hurricane Michael with both current residents seeking out homes because theirs’ was heavily damaged, or investors purchasing distressed properties to rehab and turn a profit.

“Overall, we are pleased with the strength of the housing market,” said David Peaden, executive director of the Home Builders Association of West Florida. “However, we have a lot shortage and an inventory challenge in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. For example, in Santa Rosa County, the inventory of available homes is down 57 percent since 2010, the under-supply is driving home prices higher.”

The greater Pensacola area has continued to see steady home sales as part of a continued strong housing market. Current year-to-date numbers show that sales in the area are now exceeding 2004 levels with the average home price up 1.9% year over year. However, the market has seen a bit of cooling off lately with the number of months inventory is on the market increasing to 2.5 months through June. It still remains a seller’s market here and throughout the region as evidenced by the similar increases in the Destin and Fort Walton Beach markets where closed sales have increased over 20% year-over-year.

“For the entire region, once you spend time on our award-winning beaches, eat our southern fusion seafood, amongst so many other experiences, this region becomes a part of you,” added Hayes. “The destination story is one that has gained traction both nationally and internationally thanks to the support of its valued residents and the many guests who have discovered it. That support is what entices people to come here and keeps them coming back.”

Mark your Calendars!

CED calendarRegional Residential Housing & Economics Forecast
Oct. 1
Tops’l Resort at Center Court, Miramar Beach

ResortQuest Real Estate welcomes Edsel Charles, founder and chairman of Market Graphic Research Group, and Rebekah Durham, director of regional economic information for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta who will discuss the regional housing and economic forecast. For more information or to RSVP contact Lauren Teems at 850-837-4774×1 or

Florida Energy and Climate Summit
Oct. 1-3
Tampa, Florida

Share ideas on diversifying the state’s energy sources; promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative vehicle technology; spurring economic growth; and adapting to climate change.

Oct. 2 – 4
Hilton Pensacola Beach

The Southeast’s premier cybersecurity and IT conference to connect, collaborate and build community with industry leaders, entrepreneurs and educators.

SAME Mobile Post Industry Day
Oct. 17
Renaissance Battle House Hotel in Mobile, Alabama

Florida Chamber’s Future of Florida Forum
Oct. 28 – 30
Orlando, Florida

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Future of Florida Forum will bring together Florida’s business leaders, industry experts and elected officials to discuss the opportunities and challenges impacting Florida’s future between now and 2030.

EntreCon 2019EntreCon 2019
Nov. 13 – 14
Downtown Pensacola

If you’re ready to soak in the latest leadership trends, feel inspired, surround yourself with like-minded people and propel results to the next level, you belong in downtown Pensacola November 13-14. EntreCon® is a business and leadership conference with a community-centric twist, offering leaders from across all industries an opportunity to grow together.

Power Up Energy Expo
Nov. 13 – 14
Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort

The Power Up 2019 theme is “Resilient Bases & Smart Communities.” Meet key decision makers, network with industry leaders.

Air Force Contracting Summit
Jan. 30 – 31, 2020
Destin-Miramar Beach, Florida

Join defense contractors nationwide and attend one of the top military contracting events of 2020.