Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 17th 2019

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The Difference 10 Years Make

By Rick Outzen

The Pensacola Young Professionals released on Tuesday, Sept. 17, the 2019 Quality of Life Survey, and the results reflect how much attitudes have changed over the past decade.

Funded by Quint and Rishy Studer, the survey seeks to measure the attitudes of Escambia County voters toward our local economy and elected leaders and the pros and cons of our area’s quality of life. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, located in Washington D.C., conducts the survey on behalf of PYP, interviewing 800 Escambia County voters by telephone.

The in-depth phone interviews obtain residents’ views on the direction of our city and county; the job performance of our mayor, council, superintendent and commission; the economic conditions in our county; and the best and worst aspects of our community, ranging from public schools to natural beauty to cultural diversity. The data has helped public discussion of issues concerning our quality of life.

The Pensacola and Escambia of 2009 were very different from our community today, and the survey shows how much we have progressed in 10 years.

Right or Wrong Direction
In the summer of 2009, Escambia County and Pensacola were debating how to retool local government. The city’s Charter Review Commission was fine-tuning the final draft of its proposal to replace the city-manager form of government with one led by an elected mayor as the city’s chief executive officer. Groups were also discussing another push for consolidation that would combine city and county governments.

Though city voters had approved building the Community Maritime Park three years earlier, the project had been mired in red tape, lawsuits and petition drives, and the city had yet to break ground on the multi-use stadium.

The 2009 Quality of Life survey reflected the community’s frustrations, with only about one out of three believing we were heading in the right direction.

A decade later, Pensacola has elected its second “strong mayor,” Grover Robinson. The Vince Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park has been opened seven years. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos have been honored numerous times for its fan experience and operations and is considered one of the top MLB minor league franchises. Downtown Pensacola is enjoying a renaissance.

However, the consolidation effort failed to win support from the city council and county commission to even make it to a ballot, and the county since has had eight administrators—Bob McLaughlin, Randy Oliver, George Touart (interim), Larry Newsom (interim), Jack Brown, Amy Lovoy (interim), Matt Coughlin (interim) and Janice Gilley.

On a positive note, the Board of County Commissioners stayed fairly stable for the 10-year period. Three chose not to seek additional terms—Kevin White (2010), Marie Young (2010) and Wilson Robertson (2016). Robinson decided not to seek a fourth term and was elected mayor last year. Only two-term incumbent Commissioner Gene Valentino lost his seat in an election (2014).

This year’s survey shows the participants’ confidence in local government, with 63% believing the county and city are headed in the right direction.

Right Direction or Wrong Track

In Escambia county 2009 2019
Right Direction 35% 63%
Wrong Track 48% 23%
Not Sure 18% 14%
In City of Pensacola 2009 2019
Right Direction 30% 63%
Wrong Track 47% 21%
Not Sure 24% 16%

Effective leadership from elected officials

2009 2019
Excellent 0% 4%
Good 22% 37%
Only Fair 38% 40%
Poor 39% 14%
Don’t Know 1% 4%

 

Economy

The nation was battling a recession in 2009, and Escambia County wasn’t spared. In July 2009, unemployment hit 10%. Thousands of workers had been laid off by Solutia, Wayne-Dalton, Pensacola News Journal, GE Wind, International Paper and other employers. According to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, nearly 7,000 fewer people were working by the end of the year than in 2008.

Commissioner Gene Valentino proposed pulling economic development away from the Pensacola Chamber and establishing the Pensacola Economic Development Agency that would operate under the county, but he failed to win the support of his fellow commissioners.

Today our economy is on the upswing. Economic development was separated from the chamber in 2014 and placed under the FloridaWest Economic Development Authority. Navy Federal Credit Union continues its expansion and is on track to employ 10,000 people by 2020. ST Engineering Aerospace opened its doors last year, and Mayor Robinson has secured funding to build additional aviation maintenance hangars. Unemployment has dropped to 3.5%.

The Quality of Life survey reflects the economic turnaround.

Economic Conditions in Escambia County

2009 2019
Excellent 0% 2%
Good 10% 33%
Only Fair 50% 46%
Poor 35% 19%
Don’t Know 5% 1%

Concern about Job Security

2009 2019
Very Concerned 39% 21%
Some What Concerned 27% 31%
Not Too Concerned 19% 21%
Not Concerned 15% 22%
Not Sure 1% 5%

Success in Addressing

New Challenges in attracting Economic Opportunity

Escambia County 2009 2019
Excellent 0% 5%
Good 9% 27%
Only Fair 33% 44%
Poor 58% 24%
Don’t Know 0% 1%
City of Pensacola 2009 2019
Excellent 0% 8%
Good 7% 32%
Only Fair 42% 39%
Poor 50% 20%
Don’t Know 1% 2%

A Shared Vision and Effective Plans

for Economic Development

2009 2019
Excellent 0% 5%
Good 12% 27%
Only Fair 32% 45%
Poor 50% 15%
Don’t Know 6% 8%

 

 

 

The 2019 Quality of Life Survey is available online at pensacolayp.com.