Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Outtakes-Get on the Same Page

By Rick Outzen

Toyota and Mazda plan to open a $1.6 billion new facility that will be a joint venture to produce the Corolla and a Mazda crossover, starting in 2021.

Escambia County probably isn’t in the running for the 4,000 jobs. Mississippi is the frontrunner according to those who follow the auto manufacturing industry.

We currently lack four critical factors to attract the Toyota-Mazda venture: incentives, shovel-ready site, infrastructure, and perseverance.

In 2001, the Northeast Mississippi counties of Pontotoc, Union, and Lee formed the PUL Alliance to attract a major automobile manufacturer to help diversify their region’s economy. They didn’t get one overnight. Gov. Haley Barbour helped them put together a $358.5 million incentive to lure Toyota to Blue Springs, Miss. The plant broke ground in 2007 and opened in 2011.

A study published earlier this year revealed that Toyota’s Mississippi payroll had been $307 million. Toyota had invested over $960 million in Mississippi and created 6,700 direct and indirect jobs in the state. Not a bad return on investment.

The good news for the PUI Alliance is roughly half of the Blue Springs site is still vacant, and the land has roads and sewers in place to accommodate another plant, which is why experts think they have a good chance to get a second plant.

Escambia County can tout its economic development success story, Navy Federal Credit Union. It, too, wasn’t an overnight victory. Navy Federal began as a call center in a small commerce park in the Beulah area. Thanks to the efforts of Gov. Rick Scott, Greater Pensacola Chamber, its successor FloridaWest and Escambia County, Navy Federal will employ 10,000 people by the end of this decade.

How do we build on that success? Can we keep the focus on incentives, creating shovel-ready sites, and investing in infrastructure? And do we have the perseverance and political will to stay focused on them beyond one or two budget cycles?

There are some positive signs. FloridaWest has been creating shovel-ready sites. The Florida Legislature has budgeted funds to build infrastructure for The Bluffs, an industrial park being developed near Gulf Power’s Crist Plant. Triumph Gulf Coast soon will be reviewing grant requests for projects that will help diversify the economy of Northwest Florida.

The unknown is the political will of county leaders. They have been all over the place with their opinions. Few of their statements have been encouraging to any business looking to relocate to our area. The county commission recently held an economic summit that accomplished nothing.

Somehow, we need to get back on the same page and aggressively market our community to the business world.

Please. Otherwise, the jobs will go elsewhere.