New Database Ties Together Economic Development in NWFL
Available facilities for business startups and/or growth in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties are getting easier to find, thanks to a new Internet database.
First Place Partners has developed the database, offering information on sites and buildings in the two-county area. Director John Hutchinson says the organization currently has about 40 members in EscaRosa.
“Big businesses, small businesses; and we even have institutions like UWF, Pensacola State College, [Institute for Human and Machine Cognition] – the folks who have a stake in economic development for the members and the region,” said Hutchinson. “I tell any business, ‘you ought to be a member of First Place Partners, because what we do makes your business more successful by bringing jobs to the area and by creating economic growth.’”
FPP is funded strictly by the private-sector, including the database’s $22,000 price tag.
“To make sure that the private sector has a seat at the table; we bring our resources to the game, so that we can be as competitive as possible,” Hutchinson said. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. We want Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties to be competitive for new jobs and economic growth; and we’re the private-sector voice of doing that.”
The database information is exhaustive, says Hutchinson, listing more than 900 sites and availabilities in EscaRosa, available literally to anyone around the world interested in how business is done in the western Panhandle.
“All the geographic information about the buildings -- in terms of where it is, where the roads are; even where the power lines are [and] where the gas lines are,” said Hutchinson. “But more than that, it gives you all the demographics about the site. Population, ethnicity, total households in the area; average household income, education attainment. Even what people spend their money on.”
The database is also tied into regional and statewide property data bases.
“They’ve been very helpful in advocating and supporting some of our new companies that have come into town; they’ve written letter of support on different initiatives that we’re supportive of,” says Scott Luth, President and CEO of FloridaWest, the region’s Economic Development Alliance.
He says FPP’s site and building database that’s been launched is “very robust.”
“Just having a good listing of all of the available buildings and properties is a great advantage,” Luth says. “But its real strength is the amount of demographic data. So it’s something that we really hope that the community will embrace, and use that as a free data source.”
The partnerships among FloridaWest and the 40 or so other firms, says Luth, reflect the modern era of economic development, where no one company has to go it alone.
“When you look at good communities, that’s kind of the cornerstone is their city, their county, their private sector,” says Luth. “Having an organization like that, that can step in and do some of the things that we don’t have the flexibility to do sometimes with the public dollars; it’s great to have a strictly private-sector entity to be in that support role.”
“Most searches nowadays – most of us are looking online after hours; and this site is available 24/7 – which is the best thing for all of us now when trying to find information,” said Shannon Ogletree, Director of the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office. He considers the database a “lifesaver,” given the reduction of legwork and homework involving a project, such as keeping track of individual properties with area realtors.
“This way, the direct feed [is] from the Pensacola Association of Realtors,” Ogletree says. “So as the properties fed into here; if something’s been sold or something’s been put on the market, it automatically updates the database for us instead of having to track down and make sure something’s been sold or merely been put on the market.”
Currently there are three projects that Ogletree says are “heavily considering” Santa Rosa County. While he’s not at liberty to give details, Ogletree does say that two are aviation firms and one a distribution company.
“Having the available sites and having the workforce is what matters nowadays,” says Ogletree. “I think all communities are looking at very low employment rates, and how do we make sure that when these companies come, that they can find the perfect people to work there.”
One of the reasons First Place Partners shuns public funding is Florida’s Sunshine Law -- which mandates open meetings if public money is involved. There is a need in many cases, says Director John Hutchinson, for companies to keep their projects hush-hush for as long as needed.
“A lot of economic development decisions need to be made outside the public circle; and that’s not a bad thing,” said First Place Partners’ John Hutchinson. “Because businesses who are looking at our area don’t necessarily want their competitors to know about it. Sometimes if they’re not ready to make a decision, it could cause disruptions with employees, with unions, with other things. These are businesses that appreciate the confidentiality.”