Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday November 20th 2018


Cover Story: United We Fail

The struggles to agree on regional vision
By Sean Boone

Buried within manila folders inside the University of West Florida library’s basement lies the blueprints for Pensacola’s most successful plan.

It was 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, and Mayor Warren Briggs had just helped steer a long-term initiative to progress the community. Action ‘76, as it was called, used the input of more than 1,300 citizens to create a document that outlined goals on such things as bettering education, bringing in new businesses to the area and planning for future growth of the waterfront.

Although more than 60 percent of the plan’s initial goals were reached in five years, it was largely seen as a failure by the community—subsequently pushing leaders to create several other plans of action to generate population growth.

It would be another 20 years before another large-scale community plan was devised.

Using chamber of commerce backing from both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, Envision Escarosa was created in 1997 as an initiative to improve the area’s 10 largest problems by 2020. Like Action ’76, the plan was based upon community input and a steering committee.

Envision’s goals were to create a more regional approach to tackling the problems in the area by using a $60,000 outline from the Jacksonville-based LukeVision consultant group.

But unlike its predecessor, Envision wasn’t marked as a reference for community involvement or stored away as a dusty archive. Despite being steered by many leaders who are still prominent in the Pensacola community, the 13-year-old project has been largely forgotten.


Initially Envision looked to be successful. More than 600 people showed up for a citizen stakeholders meeting in January 1998 to select the top 10 issues to be considered for the project. In March, a final draft for the community vision was finished, with environment, education and economic development finishing as the top three problems to address in the two counties.

The six-month goal setting process that included 170 task force members and representatives from Pensacola Area and Santa Rosa Chambers had never been done before. Nor had any plan given the community such awareness on so many issues.

But what, more than anything else, broke the plan was lack of substance—or specific ways to tackle each goal.

Although Action ’76 might have been defunct, it established itself with instructions on creating a new governmental center, restoring/buying the Saenger Theatre and improving the port—all of which were eventually done. It is also credited with the addition of the Civic Center in the mid ‘80s.

Instead of using a consultant plan from a specific group, the Action plan brought in the Executive Director of Goals for Dallas to brief the steering committee as well as assistance from the Baton Rouge Goals Congress. It also held “background” briefings by selected city, county and regional officials.

E.W. Hopkins, who worked on the plan as a representative of the Pensacola Chamber, says people during that time had more personal stakes involved, which likely made it more important for them to see a plan formulate.

“The community was a lot closer at that time and the Chamber was really involved (with Action ’76),” he says. “We had a very strong business community …banks were owned locally, where as now, most are branches.”

Envision may have also had trouble due to its timing. Back in the 70s, Pensacola lost roughly 14 percent of its population. But the 80s and early 90s saw double-digit growth and a better economic climate.

Local leaders such as Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, Emerald Coast Utility Authority Board member Lois Benson and Olive Road Baptist Church Pastor Ted Traylor who were part of the Envision steering committee all tell IN they have not talked about the plan in years.

Robinson believes that if a significant community-oriented plan was pushed by local leaders in the current economic climate, there would be much more traction.

“I think when things are going well, people dig in their heels…when things are going bad, they say lets circle the wagons,” says Robinson.  “That’s a natural psychology.

“I feel we are less divisive now then we were then as a community. I think tragedy and challenge brings you together,” he adds. Even though we had (Hurricanes) Opal and Erin, it was nothing compared to Ivan and the economy.”


Between March 2008 and the finished product’s release in June 2008, tensions arose among Envision committee members—particularly over economic development and environmental issues—that eventually weakened support for the project.

Dr. Enid Siskin, an environmental advocate and UWF professor of Public Health who served on the project’s steering committee and helped write the final document, says Henry Luke (CEO of LukeVision) often got involved in the discussions and created unnecessary problems.

“(Luke) would say stuff like, ‘You know, I don’t think that was a good idea.’ After several meetings, one of the environmental people had a meltdown and walked out.

“Unfortunately, the arguments became the focus instead of the process.”

John Tice, who served as committee co-chair, says once it was evident that the project was falling apart, he felt the only solution was to bring in a facilitator.

“I wanted to use the remaining funding for this and try to make some resolutions,” he says. “That’s when they said, ‘Let’s put it to rest.’ It was evident that the people pushing this were not getting what they wanted.”

Luke, who has implemented vision plans in 65 cities (including Mobile and Panama City) since 1983, recalls the meetings being far from disruptive.

“I don’t know if ‘hostility’ is the right word,” he says. “My meetings were very transparent…set up to let everyone talk and give opinions. Between March 30 and May 7 there were at least 2,800 people in attendance (at the meetings). This thing really went out to the public.

“As far as the environment versus the business argument…that’s not an unusual thing. That’s part of the process and I think the document was a balanced process.”

But Siskin says that because economic development was not the top issue in the citizen vote, Luke and several others on the committee would “marginalize” many environmental responses.

“From my point of view…once economic development was not the first issue or what the citizens wanted, they did not push it with the degree they were pushing at it before.”

One of the more successful movements in Escambia County in recent years has been the United Way-backed Unite Escambia, which is broken into five sectors: education, environment, health, housing and poverty.

Tice says it has been successful because it isn’t forced to compete with a specific interest and is backed by the private sector.

“We’re really good at looking like we’re doing stuff with these task forces,” he says. “The problem is that (plans like Envision) will not work unless you have buy-ins from everyone. If people don’t feel they can make money, they are dropped.”


Despite community interest and coverage in local media, Escambia County historically has had trouble pushing through long-term vision plans.

Warren Briggs says he believes some of the blame falls upon the lack of support from elected officials—more notably those in Tallahassee who represented the district.

The IN found a letter dated Feb. 28, 1979 from State Senator Tom Tobiasson to Mayor Briggs declines an invite to attend an official meeting on the plan.

“The biggest problem for us was that elected officials didn’t participate…they didn’t adopt the plan…so there wasn’t much carried through,” he says.

Out of the 16 planning committees Action ’76 created, only one was led by a state authority—the Florida Department of Transportation.

Envision had no direct state ties and very few with local government bodies.

Current Mayor Mike Wiggins was serving his first year on City Council when the $60,000 Envision project came to life. He says there was very little interaction between the city and the project committees—something he believes would not have happened today.

“You have never really heard it mentioned,” he says. “Now everything has changed…we are all engaged in regional development now.”

Although the Envision plan was shelved, some of its goals have in fact been addressed through osmosis.

In 1998, Pensacola ranked 280 out of 366 metropolitan areas in per capita income. Last year, the city had improved to 213 on the list. During that time period, the number of jobs in the area increased by nearly 13 percent.

In 2008, the city and county finally adopted curbside recycling, number 12 of 25 on the environmental strategy for the Envision document.

“Overall, I think when you look back at the document, we’ve achieved some of the things in the process,” says Robinson. “I do think it was the right thing to do at the right time, I just think it was too varied and people came to it to get what they wanted and didn’t work together, which undermined it.”

Despite gradual improvements in many vital community issues, the area has a long way to go—with or without a community-engaged plan.

Escambia County is currently ranked 18 out of 25 of the largest counties in the state in per capita income, 22 in poverty and 24 in population growth. This week, the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce will release its Vision 2015 plan under new president Jim Hizer. The plan focuses on economic development and job creation.

Hizer’s recent presentation before City Council focused on collaborating economic development efforts between Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

But with a history of watered down and broken plans, will this be any more successful?

“We better be (successful). The new guy at the chamber (Hizer)…he comes with a message of regionalization, and I don’t think there’s another way to go.”

By 2020 EscaRosa:
—Will have a rational program for sustainable development that balances the ENVIRONMENTAL, economic, infrastructure and social equity goals of the community.
—Will have a world class EDUCATION system that maximizes the potential of all individuals and prepares them to actively contribute to our community.
—Will have an aggressive, balanced ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT program that will raise the standard of living into the top quartile of peer-sized communities without compromising the environment or quality of life.
—Will have INFRASTRUCTURE development that is regionally planned to apply the principles of sustainability (economic development, environment, and social equity) while assuring quality of life for all residents.
—Will be a safe, attractive COMMUNITY that is rich in civic pride, diversity, respect and cultural resources.
—Will have GOVERNMENT that continuously increases its efficiency and protects the freedoms of its citizens.
—Will have a highly engaged PRIVATE SECTOR that will provide leadership in executing the EscaRosa Vision while supporting environmental, cultural and diversity issues.


Our citizens and the community will develop and use these core values as the guideposts as we pursue our interdependent Visions and Strategies. Core Values are principles that guide us in daily decisions: Integrity, Responsibility, Faith in God, Respect, and Sustainability.

The following key benchmarks will be used to measure the region’s progress each year. Although we have a lot to accomplish over the next 22 years, we expect to see continual improvement every year along the way.
ENVIRONMENT—Envision EscaRosa has 25 Strategies for the Environment Foundation. During the first year of Collaborative Implementation, Vision Partners will adopt specific strategies for implementation. Strategic alliances of Vision Partners will develop action steps and benchmarks to measure the progress of adopted strategies. All of the benchmarks for the Environment Foundation will be considered a Key Benchmark.
EDUCATION—Before 2020, Escambia and Santa Rosa school systems will rank in the top quartile of schools in the United States in a combination of graduation rate and College Board scores adjusted for the percentage of students taking the test.
History—Each year, Expansion Management Magazine surveys approximately 1,000 school districts with enrollments with 600 students or more. Their graduate outcome index is a combination of graduation rate and average College Board scores adjusted for percentage of students taking the test. The graduate outcome index is on a scale of 150 to 50. In 1997, the Santa Rosa County School District outcome index was 102 and the Escambia County School District outcome index was 102. This places both counties in the second quartile.
INCOME—The EscaRosa private sector earnings per job (adjusted for cost of living) will reach or exceed the top quartile for the 50 peer-sized MSAs by 2020.
History—In 1994, the private sector earnings per job of EscaRosa’s 50 peer-sized MSAs at the bottom of the first quartile was $26,441 and EscaRosa’s private sector earnings per job (adjusted for cost of living) was $23,424 or a ratio of 88.6 percent.
POVERTY—The percentage of EscaRosa individuals living in poverty will be decreased by 50 percent by 2020.
History—The 1990 Census indicates that 17 percent of individuals in Escambia and 14.2 percent of individuals in Santa Rosa lived in poverty.
INTOLERANCE—Intolerance between races in EscaRosa will be eliminated as measured by an annual scientific survey.

VISION: EscaRosa will have a rational program for sustainable development that balances the environmental, economic, infrastructure and social equity goals of the community.
STRATEGIES: (Including General and Growth Management)
1. Develop a sustainable community that maintains a balance between environmental integrity and economic development.
2. Develop regional storm water systems to replace small satellite drainage facilities. Decrease the direct discharge of storm water runoff in bays and estuaries by 25 percent every five years.
3. Enforce existing environmental laws and regulations, including but not limited to compliance with air and water quality standards of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and hazardous waste laws.
4. Provide for effective enforcement of existing tree ordinances. Encourage incentives for saving and replanting trees.
5. Focus, manage and control growth so as to minimize the impact to the environment.
6. Develop ecotourism by using our best natural resources as profit centers while protecting their integrity.
7. Oppose offshore drilling within 100 miles of Florida’s Coast and do not allow oil and gas companies to dump their waste into the Gulf.
8. Decrease the number of septic tanks operating in environmentally sensitive lands by 25 percent over the next five years and every five years thereafter.
9. Maintain a public education program that explains the economic, social and personal values of protecting the environment.
10. Search for clean alternative energy sources that are economically competitive.
11. Eliminate litter. Develop proactive methods to determine who is littering, and develop educational programs to address the group.
12. Impose mandatory recycling and curbside separation.
13. Develop and enforce rules for upkeep of commercial and residential properties.
14. Require local industry to comply with all applicable permits and regulation.
15. Focus on attracting clean industries and refuse to accept anything else.
16. Increase enforcement for environmental crimes such as unlawful polluting, littering, dumping, vandalism and destruction of public lands.
17. Establish and enforce height and density restrictions on Santa Rosa Island and Scenic corridors to preserve our uniqueness.
18. Create an environmental watch panel that produces quarterly reports, similar to the Pensacola News Journal’s Economy Watch Panel.
19. Provide convenient locations for free trash collection and more recycling drop off points.
20. Establish a wetlands mitigation bank.
21. Establish a program to educate the community about the disposal of toxic household waste.
22. Develop effective codes to address environmental concerns.
23. Make all planning documents consistent with sustainable communities.
24. Develop stronger comprehensive zoning and planning for development of new housing areas.
25. Complete the Superfund cleanup on North Palafox in Pensacola and ensure that the burden of industry pollution is not borne unfairly by poor working class and minority neighborhoods.

VISION: EscaRosa will have a world class education system that maximizes the potential of every individual and prepares them to actively contribute to our community.
STRATEGIES: (Including Pre-K-12, Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Community Support)
1. Ensure all graduates are ready to attend a four-year college, two-year college, a technical school, enter an apprenticeship program or immediately enter the workforce. Establish accurate assessment to measure what students know and can do that must be met for movement from grade to grade, and then for graduation.
2. Increase parental involvement in the school system and require parental accountability for their children’s education and in-school behavior.
3. Increase emphasis with students, parents and educators on technology and apprenticeship programs that will result in family-sustaining careers in the 70 percent to 80 percent of jobs not requiring a four-year college education in the 21st century.
4. Ensure a safe and creative learning environment for every student. Create a community, business and education partnership that supports school boards, administrators and teachers in maintaining disciplined classrooms.
5. Create a comprehensive EscaRosa undergraduate and graduate higher education system and curriculum that prepares students to meet the needs of the region’s employers in the 21st century. The curriculum must be continuously reviewed and revised in partnership with a council of area employers.
6. Expect all graduates to be competent in math, verbal/written communications and basic life management skills.
7. Increase teacher pay based on performance standards.
8. Demand high academic standards for all students.
9. Utilize accountability tools that measure the school system and individual school performance.
10. Instill core values in all students at all grade levels.
11. Expect every child to have a parent or caring adult assist with their development from birth through adulthood. When the parent cannot fill this role, surrogate parents from neighborhood organizations, churches and civic organizations will step in as mentors and tutors in a formalized program.
12. Provide strong community support for education.
13. Teach tolerance, unity and diversity.
14. Eliminate adult illiteracy. Provide a job training program for new jobs created by expanding or relocating business that is competitive with other Southeastern metro areas. Expect each adult to be responsible for a continuous lifelong learning cycle that recognizes the global competitiveness of the 21st century. This lifelong learning cycle for most individuals will require retraining every five years to increase productivity and to continue receiving a family-sustaining wage.
15. Develop and maintain prenatal to age 12 healthcare programs, ensure adequate prenatal care for mothers, develop appropriate education programs for all children up to age 6, one-on-one support, and child care to help ensure a good education for all at-risk children.
16. Create challenging curricula with real world applications.
17. Provide alternative school environments and programs for special needs children, students needing extra discipline and gifted students.
18. Consider extending the length of the school day and school year to be competitive with other nations.
19. Create a world class library system that includes all of the educational system libraries and public libraries.
20. Ensure that each student has adequate school supplies, curriculum materials and access to leading edge instructional technology.
21. Recognize the creative problem-solving skills developed by the arts and the economic impact of the arts. Provide diverse arts education including Discipline-Based Arts Education: Art History, Art Criticism, Aesthetics, Art Production, Arts for a Complete Education and Very Special Arts Florida.
22. Focus special emphasis on technical education.
23. Expect the school board to set policy, administrators to provide leadership and management, and competent and inspired teachers.
24. Begin education in world history, global affairs, and foreign languages at the elementary school level.
25. Involve African Americans in all extracurricular activities. Teach African-American history as a part of Florida, American and World History. Hire more African-American teachers and administrators.

VISION: EscaRosa will have an aggressive, balanced economic development program that will raise the standard of living into the top quartile without compromising the environment or quality of life.
1. Strengthen relationships within EscaRosa to accomplish regional economic development initiatives. Develop a mechanism for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to pool their resources and efforts to strengthen existing businesses/industries and recruit new clean businesses/industries for the EscaRosa MSA.
2. Provide a tax and regulatory environment and other incentives that encourage expansion and attraction of clean businesses/industries.
3. Target industry clusters and core technologies that are clean industries which will offer higher wages and match the skills of the workforce created by our business-education partnership.
4. Realize the economic impact from continued development of downtown and/or historic areas.
5. Encourage business-education partnerships to focus on workforce development training.
6. Develop a community attitude that aggressively supports the development of UWF as a research university and uses the technology created in an aggressive technology transfer process.
7. Support, defend and enhance the local military presence with focus on aviation training.
8. Recognize that our history, arts and natural resources are a catalyst for economic development.
9. Revitalize inner city and blighted areas by attracting small business and reducing crime.
10. Provide good entry level jobs for local graduating students.
11. Promote ecotourism that recognizes our unique topography and protects environmental integrity.
12. Eliminate consideration of offshore drilling for local economic development.
13. Attract industries that make products from recycled products, and encourage industries with “closed loop” systems.
14. Attract a full-service, four star destination resort and build a convention center as a magnet to attract visitors and support higher wage tourism jobs.
15. Establish an independent port authority to redevelop the Port of Pensacola, and add a foreign trade zone.
16. Develop economic plans to fully consider a growing retirement age population. Promote the retention of military retired population.
17. Plan for the possibility of a future reduction in military spending.
18. Reform worker’s compensation insurance.
19. Encourage small business development with emphasis on locally-based and closely held companies and recruit many small diversified businesses.
20. Eliminate the income differential between blacks and whites before 2020. Create an atmosphere and an environment where true diversity in the job place becomes a realistic component of economic development.
21. Enhance our teaching hospital system with research capability.