|6,200 acres seek shovel-ready status
By Duwayne Escobedo
...PENSACOLA, Fla. -- When competing for new and expanding businesses,
especially the aviation industry, Northwest Florida needed to fix a deficiency: It had
no industrial sites that were “shovel ready.”
...But today, 13 sites totaling nearly 6,200 acres have completed a review and are
moving toward certification, including some sites designed to appeal to the very hot
and growing aerospace/aviation sector.
...The initiative may be coming at just about the right time. With Airbus building a
$600 million assembly line to the west of the Panhandle in Mobile, Ala., some
suppliers are looking at setting up shop in the region. But even without Airbus,
Northwest Florida for years has been a favorite location for aerospace and aviation
companies. It needed certified sites, Airbus or not.
...In April Pensacola-based Gulf Power and McCallum Sweeney Consulting of
Greenville, S.C., started a site certification program called “First Sites,” the first of its
kind in Florida. Organizers were expecting 7 to 10 sites, but instead received
applications from16 spread over six Northwest Florida counties.
...In September, 13 of those sites earned approval to move forward in the Site
Evaluation and Certification Program. The land is in Escambia, Santa Rosa,
Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Jackson counties. The largest site seeking certification is
Marianna Airport and Industrial Park in Jackson County, with 1,626 acres.
...Several sites are targeting the aviation industry and come with runways, such as
Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview,
DeFuniak Springs Airport in DeFuniak, and Venture Crossings in Panama City.
...Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office Director Shannon Ogletree said
the program is timely. His county has four sites with a total of nearly 605 acres
moving through the process, including the Northwest Florida Industrial Park at
Interstate 10 and the I-10/Highway 87 site, both targeting Airbus suppliers and other
non-Airbus aviation activities.
...“Basically, we are taking the risk out of the site for companies,” Ogletree said. “This
further elevates us and puts us on the top of the pile. We are getting ready to really
push it out there that we are site certified.”
...John Hutchinson, economic development director of Gulf Power, said companies
today want land that’s ready for development, making it easier for businesses to
...“The marketplace has changed. Companies want to be able to react quickly,” said
Hutchinson. “No longer can you work with a prospect and show them a field and say
‘In three years we can have it ready.’ That doesn’t work anymore.”
...Selected property owners have until September 2014 to complete their certification
applications. Decisions on what properties will be certified is expected to be
announced no later than the fourth quarter of 2014.
...Economic developers say once a property is certified, it increases the odds it will
make that first cut of prospective companies. Although it doesn’t guarantee success,
it does make the site more competitive.
...The sites that are needed to attract and grow high-quality, high-paying jobs require
infrastructure that the region simply does not have certified yet.
...Site certification involves clearing the land, installing utilities and transportation
infrastructure and beginning the permitting process for future development. After the
work is completed, the sites are added to a national, searchable registry of
properties ready for development.
...Site selection consultants and companies that are looking to expand or relocate
use this database to find real estate for their headquarters or satellite offices. If the
initial site certification process is successful, another round of certifications is
...The site certification program is fully backed by regional economic developers,
including the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.
...“One of our strategic plan’s goals is to develop 500 to 600 acres of truly shovel-
ready land near Interstate 10 with all requisite infrastructure and modern
development covenants,” said Scott Luth, the chamber’s senior vice president.
“Today, no local sites meet these requirements.”
...But Pensacola International Airport has more than 300 acres designated for
aviation-related companies, including the 176-acre Commerce Park, which is seeking
...In addition, Escambia County in early December voted to move ahead with a land
swap deal involving Santa Rosa County that would end up giving Escambia County
some 640 acres near I-10 to use as a commerce park.
...It’s a matter of keeping the playing field level. Alabama already has more than 25
certified sites, including four in Baldwin County - one a 3,000-acre megasite. Georgia
has more than 20 sites and southeast Mississippi 12. Florida has one certified site
near Jacksonville. Hutchinson said the Northwest Florida region is well on its way of
having its first certified sites. County officials now have a good idea what needs to be
done to earn certification.
...“Gulf Power’s ultimate goal with this program is to help communities think long
range about economic development and job creation,” he said. “We want
communities to be in a continuous cycle of identifying and preparing potential sites
and commerce parks for new business. That’s a key element of our future
□ □ □
Certified sites likely the wave of the future
...A speaker at an aerospace summit in Huntsville, Ala., put it bluntly when asked by
someone from the audience. Certification is almost required.
...A certified industrial site is one that has been analyzed and documented by a third
party to determine acreage, archaeological, availability, boundary, cultural,
endangered species, environmental, geotechnical, land use, ownership, topography,
transportation, utility and wetland issues. It’s considered "shovel ready" for
acquisition and development.
...Southern Business & Development has done its own research to determine some
of the South's best site certification programs. One that made SB&D’s list is
Mississippi Power’s Project Ready. Gulf Power’s sister company partnered with
McCallum Sweeney Consulting to develop the program.
...SB&D points out that the Project Ready initiative has an aviation and aerospace
flavor to it since several of the sites are located near NASA’s John C. Stennis Space
...There are currently five sites with the designation, including the Jackson County
Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point, and Stennis Space Center, near the
Louisiana state line.
...Also singled out by SB&D was Alabama's AdvantageSite program. It’s sponsored
by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the Alabama Development
Office, Alabama Gas, Alabama Power, North Alabama Industrial Development
Association and PowerSouth Energy.
...The program requires that economic development organizations provide
documentation specific to the proposed industrial site, including a set of standard
data related to ownership and control of the site, environmental and geotechnical
conditions and infrastructure status. To date, 16 sites in Alabama have earned the
AdvantageSite designation. - David Tortorano