EDC hosts state site selectors / recruiters

EDC hosts state site selectors / recruiters

By Tim Croft, The Star Newspaper Editor
January 21, 2016

Open for business.

That was the mantra last week as the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition hosted a team of economic development site selectors/recruiters from Enterprise Florida.

The group from Tallahassee, representing everything from the aerospace industry to international trade, was in the county as part of tour of sites across Northwest Florida, from Escambia to Gulf counties.

“There is a lot of site anaylsis going on right now across the state,” said EDC executive director Chris Holley.

The visit by Enterprise Florida, in fact, coincided with the EDC being awarded a $26,500 grant from Duke Energy for “strategic site analysis” in the county.

Using a GIS consulting firm, the goal is to identify potential properties in the county that could serve as launching pads for economic development.

“The idea is to identify assets for industrialized use,” said Danielle Ruiz with Duke Energy. “It’s a process, a very complex process.

“It’s a road map. The community will have so much more information about what they have.”

In 2013, Duke provided grant funding for similar efforts in 23 counties as part of a first phase of establishing a “strategic site inventory” in the utility’s service areas.

Gulf County is being included in the second phase as some counties, such as Gadsden, analyzed in the first phase, move on to Duke’s “Site Readiness Program” that folds in a host of factors to establish a site as “shovel-ready.”

“We are excited about that work,” Holley said. “There is a lot of synchronization and connection among the counties; the port is on the front burner.”

And the Port of Port St. Joe was a primary focus of the Enterprise Florida group, who work within their specialties to link businesses with locations in the Sunshine State.

The bus tour included a trip onto the property to allow a visualization of the port planning area, over 200 acres.

Last year, the EDC began listing potential properties for economic development on the Enterprise Florida website, but providing a complete picture from the ground was a focus of the tour.

Tommy Pitts, former port director and now project manager with Hatch Mott MacDonald on design and engineering in advance of channel dredging, said the port is much more than a natural deepwater port.

A rail link, a natural gas pipeline, industrial capacity electrical, water and wastewater within the city of Port St. Joe, the Gulf County canal providing linkage to points as disparate as Texas and Pennsylvania, all provide valued infrastructure beyond the port.

“It is a blank canvas,” said current Port Authority chair Eugene Raffield, who also detailed how shipping in Gulf County dates to the mid-1800s.

“The port is at the top of the list for economic development in this county and region,” Holley said.

The group also had a quick tour of the former Material Transfer Industries site, where as recently as 2008 rail cars of coal were shipped out after traveling to Gulf County by barge.

They also saw several other potential sites as well as the former Arizona Chemical plant site which is owned by the Port St. Joe Port Authority.

They then convened over lunch and more discussion, with a check presentation from Duke Energy tossed in, at Sunset Coastal Grill.

“The county is open for business,” said Board of County Commissioners chair Ward McDaniel.

Photo: A group of recruiters from Enterprise Florida toured Gulf County last week, taking in the Port of Port St. Joe and the former Material Transfer Industries (pictured) site.

updated: January 28, 2016, 2:57 pm