What taxpayers have gotten for investment in FloridaWest

  • August 4, 2015
  • /   Carlton Proctor
  • /   economy

The FloridaWest economic development alliance's logo. Photo credit: idgroup

FloridaWest, Pensacola's newly rebranded lead economic development agency, is closing in on its first year of operation.

Led by CEO Scott Luth, and funded with $760,000 of local tax dollars, FloridaWest is a spinoff from the Greater Pensacola Chamber.

Job One for FloridaWest is creating jobs by attracting new industries and fostering expansion of existing ones. So, are the city and county taxpayers getting their money's worth out of FloridaWest's economic development efforts?

The short answer is: Yes. But the long answer is more revealing, and more impressive.

To that end we need to turn back the clock to August 2010 and the launch of Vision 2015, a major community effort whose goal was creating 3,000 new jobs in five years.

At the time the greater Pensacola unemployment rate was hovering near 10 percent, and more than 23,000 people were out of work. It was time for action, and the community's business leaders responded with a highly successful fundraising campaign.

Vision 2015's goal was $5 million. The final tally was close to $9 million, all of which was used to finance the Greater Pensacola Chamber's search for new industry and new jobs.

By any account Vision 2015 was a rousing success.

As the Vision program closes out its last few months, the tally of "committed jobs" (jobs that employers have promised under contract but not all fully realized) stands at 8,500, far exceeding the original goal of 3,000.

Luth said he is compiling a list of actual jobs from the list of "committed jobs," and will report that figure to city and county officials when FloridaWest makes its formal budget request later this month.

A large percentage of those 8,500 jobs have come thanks to Navy Federal Credit Union's expansion at its Beulah campus. Luth was instrumental in brokering the sale of the 240-acre Langley Bell 4-H property adjacent Navy Federal's campus.

{{business_name}}From left, Shannon Dale, Micah Hinek, Justin Ford and Jennifer Hall at Navy Federal in Beulah. Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today

From left, Shannon Dale, Micah Hinek, Justin Ford and Jennifer Hall at Navy Federal in Beulah. Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today

That deal, which was complicated and politically thorny, paved the way for a campus that is expected to be home to 10,000 full-time jobs by 2020, according to Navy Federal CEO Cutler Dawson.

Moreover, Vision 2015's numbers are especially impressive coming in the wake of a crippling recession and the devastating effects of the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon spill.

"I'm very proud of what the chamber and FloridaWest has accomplished over the past five years," said Luth.

Now the focus turns to FloridaWest and its efforts to continue job creating in the Pensacola community.

Although less than a year old after separating from the chamber, FloridaWest has compiled a modest, but promising list of accomplishments.

Here's a rundown of projects FloridaWest is shepherding, and their current status:

— Pensacola Technology Campus: This nine-acre property at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Gregory Street, remains vacant, but will be the site of a $9 million, 70,000 square foot multiuse office building that is expected to house several tenants from he tech/aerospace fields.


The building will be financed and owned by Space Florida, the state's lead agency for promoting aerospace projects.

Luth said Space Florida officials are continuing to work with architects from Caldwell & Associates to finalize design plans. Space Florida spokesperson Emma Newsham said two Space Florida project managers were in Pensacola last week working with Caldwell's architects.

"We have several 'Letters of Intent' from prospective tenants for the building," said Luth.

However, he said there's little chance ground will be broken on the building before late January or February of 2016. Luth is hopeful an award of bid to a general contractor will be let by December.

— VT Aerospace facility at Pensacola International Airport: City officials and VT executives are meeting twice a month to finalize design specs for $38 million hangar that will house a jet aircraft maintenance facility and create some 300 jobs over a 5-year period.

{{business_name}}The official lease signing for the VT-MAE-ST Aerospace deal at the Pensacola International Airport property.

The official lease signing for the VT-MAE-ST Aerospace deal at the Pensacola International Airport property.

Luth, Mayor Ashton Hayward III and VT executives have been working on the project for the past three years. Luth expects groundbreaking sometime in the first quarter of 2016.

Other FloridaWest accomplishments during its first 10 months include:

— Location of AeroSecur, an Italian helicopter maintenance company at Pensacola International Airport.

— International Paper Company's commitment to invest $90 million over five years at its Cantonment plant to improve energy efficiencies and enhance the plant's work environment.

Luth said another success was "standing up" FloridaWest's operations after it broke away from the Greater Pensacola Chamber.

"That was very time-consuming from an administrative standpoint," Luth said. "So, I believe we can point to four or five pretty impressive accomplishments that we're quite proud of during the past 10 months."

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