PANAMA CITY – Nearly 100 Northwest Florida business and community leaders came together today as officials with Coastal Vision 3000, a non-profit organization focused on marketing the region, and the Panama City – Bay County International Airport discussed future economic and growth opportunities for the area. The open-forum gathering, which was held under a tented meeting space at the site of the future airport, currently the only airport under construction in the country, was lead by Davage “Buddy” Runnels, chairman of Coastal Vision 3000 and chairman of the Destin-based The Sterling Companies.
Coastal Vision 3000’s mission includes branding the six-county area of Northwest Florida, including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties, as “THE Beach.” The group, which was founded in 2007, marked today’s event as a true beginning for its promotional initiatives, by introducing Mel Ponder as its newly appointed executive director and unveiling plans for a membership campaign.
Runnels, who is a co-founder of the organization, said, “Today means we have, with the joining of the new airport and Coastal Vision 3000, the confirmation of a long-term economic growth plan to this region. On May 10, 2010, national and international flights will land on this site. And because of that fact, with integrity we can now say to our employees and our customers that our economic challenges will change. It brings hope and faith that our future is bright.”
Florida Senator Don Gaetz, who was in attendance, praised the group for its forward-thinking efforts for Northwest Florida. Gaetz said, “I believe a rising tide floats all boats and Coastal Vision 3000 represents a regional consensus to grow our economy through smart economic decisions. And this airport is clearly a model for regional and international development.
Randy Curtis, executive director of the Panama City – Bay County International Airport gave the group a status update on the airport construction, an economic-development venture which many business leaders consider to be a positive pivotal move in Northwest Florida’s favor. To the crowds applause, Curtis pointed out that although there have been six court rulings in the sometimes embattled progress of the airport’s construction, they have “won all six, hands down.”
Jerry Ray, co-chair of the Coastal Vision 3000 airline committee and senior vice president of corporate communications for St. Joe, one of Florida’s largest land holders as well as the donor of the land used for the new airport, also made a presentation to the group. Ray reported that the committee is currently in talks with several international airlines. He underscored the importance of creating a relationship with these airlines as he said the region must expand its customer base beyond the drive-in market to overseas. Ray concluded by lauding the new airport as a tool to tourism growth.
The meeting also included an update on Taste of THE Beach, a major fund-raising effort by Todd Vucovich, executive director of Destin Charity Wine Auction. Taste of THE Beach, which will offer events in several locations from Pier Park in Panama City Beach to the Emerald Grande in Destin, is expected to bring in thousands of visitors to the market.
The meeting was finalized as Jeanne Dailey, broker and president of Newman – Dailey Resort Properties Inc., presented the status of the Coastal Vision 3000 membership efforts. Dailey said that the committee is preparing a campaign that will include a tool kit for members to employ as part of the organization’s strategic branding efforts. She added,” Membership in Coastal Vision 3000 means being a part of shaping and growing Northwest Florida’s future; it means sharing in our message, helping to build this brand.”
About Coastal Vision 3000
Coastal Vision 3000 is a partnership of business and community leaders from Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties, joined together with the cohesive goal to increase national and international awareness of Northwest Florida Gulf Coast through a strategic local tourism and economic development effort. The regionally-focused organization, founded in 2007 and led by chairperson Davage “Buddy” Runnels of Destin, Fla., has created an innovative brand-building campaign, known as “THE Beach: A way of life that will change yours.” As the cornerstone of its initiatives, THE Beach will represent the six-county area as a unified, evolving destination poised for exponential tourism and business development. For more information about Coastal Vision 3000 and THE Beach, please visit www.thebeachfla.com.