PANAMA CITY, Florida – Balloons, cake and punch greeted customers entering Gulf Power’s Eastern district office on 15th Street in Panama City where on Aug. 16, employees celebrated connecting the district’s 100,000th residential customer.
“We are excited to celebrate this milestone,” said Sandy Sims, Gulf Power’s Eastern district manager. “This a positive indicator that the economy has made a turn around and people are confident in our community’s growth and sustainability. We’ve seen positive growth in economic development and housing starts, and we see this as a promising sign that area is recovering.”
In Bay County alone, the population has grown to approximately 182,000, a 7.6 percent growth since 2010, and expected to increase to nearly 200,000 by 2021. The area is also poised for economic growth according to Sperling’s Best Places to live, with a projected 39.30 percent future job growth over the next 10 years.
“This is a sign that the overall economy is bouncing back,” said Scarlett Phaneuf, vice president of Bay Economic Development Alliance. “Not only is there organic growth in all industry sectors such as tourism and retail, but there are large companies looking to relocate here or expand their operations. So we are excited about how the area is growing and opening up new opportunities for our community.”
Commercial growth in Bay County, especially in west Panama City Beach and in Lynn Haven near the airport, is attracting both an increase in existing home sales and new residential construction, furthering the upswing in the economic development of the county.
According to Michelle Ginn, president-elect of the Bay County Association of Realtors, employees who relocate to Bay County find a welcoming community with a robust housing market of both existing and new homes. Some of the area’s most desirable housing communities are within 30 minutes of the beach and the international airport.
Bay County, she said, offers those looking to relocate unique housing opportunities with prices offering an outstanding value. In 2008, the market was saturated with homes, with more than 23 months worth of inventory, or almost four times the national average. Today, there is an average of six-to-eight months of housing inventory indicating a more balanced market, which is a, “definite sign of growth in the area.”
“The housing market is certainly a draw for many employees relocating or those looking to purchase a new home,” said Ginn. “We are seeing a better than average growth pattern for the area. More jobs and opportunities in the area trickle down to the housing market as well. So, while the area is growing, it’s prime for even more growth.”
According to the Bay County Association of Realtors, sales of existing homes are up 27 percent from this time last year for the month of June, closing on 385 single-family homes. And to date, the Bay County department of Builders Services has issued 252 new construction permits. Likewise, the city of Lynn Haven has issued 50 new home construction permits, while Panama City has issued 22 and 115 for Panama City Beach.
Ginn also stated that more people are moving back to the area not due to a job, but because they are “returning after military retirement or just coming home.”
“That says a lot for the area,” she said. “While this is a beach and town community, people love it here and want to come back. That speaks highly of our community.”
As families move due to employment opportunities and business relocate or expand, Sims said Gulf Power is proud to be a community partner as the energy company invests in the region’s economic health.
“As we celebrate our 100,000th customer, we’re excited about all the new growth taking place,” added Sims. “Many people work every day to grow this community, and we are proud to be a small part of it. As our communities grow, Gulf Power is committed to meeting the energy needs of our customers today, tomorrow and into the future.”