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NW Florida County Investing Another $2.8M Into Expansion of Industrial Park

Tue September 06, 2022 - Southeast Edition
Pensacola News Journal

The Northwest Florida Industrial Park in Santa Rosa County is moving full steam ahead in building upon the infrastructure improvements it started last September when Triumph Gulf Coast awarded the county $3.5 million.

Now, the county is committing roughly $2.8 million of Triumph funds toward phased improvements at the industrial park alongside Interstate 10, northwest of Pensacola in Milton. The latest construction award will include a master stormwater pond, a two-lane roadway into the park, a lift station and force main piping, and water service connections.

Santa Rosa Commission Chairman Bob Cole told the Pensacola News Journal in late August that he was pleased with the commitment county leaders have made to the industrial infrastructure.

"We feel like we're doing a real good job," he explained. "We've got quite a few prospective tenants looking at that park already."

Triumph Gulf Coast is a nonprofit corporation designed in 2013 to oversee the expenditure of 75 percent of all funds recovered by the Florida attorney general for economic damages to the state that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

According to its website, the nonprofit is required to distribute the funds to eight northwest Florida counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla — that were disproportionately affected by the oil spill and help in their recovery efforts.

Although Key Company Pulled Out, Park Still a Go

The Northwest Florida Industrial Park at I-10 encompasses 90 acres and is primarily dedicated to the transportation sector.

The facility was meant to welcome the long-awaited "Project Unstoppable," but the unidentified company recently decided to pull out, according to the Pensacola news source. That came months after the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners agreed to accept a $2.5 million bid from the Midwest developer behind the effort to build on about 50 acres of the industrial park as part of the project that proved, in the end, to be "stoppable."

Luckily, though, the county has been able to attract other businesses to the industrial campus to fill the loss, including a 7-acre parcel — the last one remaining at the park — which has been purchased by a distribution company.

In addition, Pennsylvania-based Hershey's Ice Cream also is moving its distribution facility in Pensacola to the park. That facility is set to be built on an 8-acre parcel after the company submitted a bid of about $300,000 for the land.

The News Journal reported that the Hershey's warehouse is expected to take about three years to be up and running, and the company will have a minimum of 20 employees.

Industrial Parks Offer Good Jobs in NW Florida

"I think the industrial parks are an integral part of the overall economic development of the county, [but] I think it's only one part," County Commissioner Colten Wright told the Pensacola newspaper. "We obviously have tourism, and tourism is a significant part of the economy for Santa Rosa County, but it would be unwise to try to rely only on that."

Cole recognized the county is limited on available space at its industrial parks, and he added there were some factors outside the community government's control that are affecting potential tenants' decisions.

"Unfortunately, right now, several of the tenants are a little gun-shy because of the high cost of development," he admitted. "They've got their options open but they're kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude hoping that construction costs will level off or perhaps come down before they go ahead and move forward."

He added, though, that one of the benefits of having industrial parks in his community is that they offer jobs good enough to keep talent in Santa Rosa County.

On the downside, though, Cole said that Florida has its own challenges because of the threat of natural disaster.

"Insurance gets us because we're in Florida and because we're expected to have hurricanes," he explained. "Some insurance companies have a much higher premium for a company that wants to move here, rather than moving up to Montgomery [Ala.] or somewhere like that."

Cole suggested the Florida Legislature should explore finding a way to alleviate those insurance costs.

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