The Future: It’s More Than Building a New Airport

by July 17, 2008 • 3 comments

Again, I quote in its entirety, from Ed Wright:

As construction of the new airport proceeds on schedule, it is clear that we need to get busy putting all the other pieces of this jigsaw puzzle together. Approval of the airport relocation was key to approaching the vision for the West Bay Sector Plan and to realize its many different benefits to the region.

The following are thoughts about just some of the things that need to be underway:

The preservation of West Bay, by setting aside nearly 40,000 acres of conservation land, established a remarkable and unparallel public-private partnership and opportunity.

  • Currently the leading edge of this conservation effort is the planned Audubon Nature Center. The communities of Bay and Walton Counties and businesses and residents need to get behind the Audubon Society’s efforts to make this world-class Nature Center a reality. It has enormous potential for education, reputation, conservation, tourism, and (yes) economic development as well.

A coordinated growth and land use plan for development that involves the counties adjacent to Bay County and contiguous to the West Bay Sector Plan is needed.

  • A mechanism is needed to guide an integrated effort that addresses the impact and economic development opportunities for Jackson and Washington counties and existing coordinating entities. Growth associated with the development of the industrial areas associated with the new airport has the potential to involve these counties to a large extent.

The West Bay Sector Plan creates space and opportunity for economic development opportunities to create new and better jobs driven by the types of aviation-related and aviation-friendly industry that potentially can be attracted to this Greenfield airport site.

  • The Bay County EDA should already be actively engaged in developing specific target industries that are consistent with the opportunities the new airport creates. Perhaps you will remember the EADS refueling tanker site location competition in which the new airport was judged to be very competitive had the time line EADS and the Air Force required been workable.
  • The actual recent Air Force award of the refueling aircraft contract to Northrop Grummond and EADS should serve as a signal that Bay County and the region is in a very unique and favorable position. It truly has something to sell and shouldn’t be waiting for the airport opening or for an interested inquiry to arrive in the “inbox” to begin this marketing work

The new airport creates the opportunity to create new tourism markets and new and better air service.

  • A redefinition of the destination that is more than Panama City Beach – stretching from Apalachicola to Fort Walton – is essential.

It is pretty obvious that just building an airport will not accomplish these objectives. In this regard, the airport is necessary but not sufficient.

What now has to happen is for the communities and counties surrounding the area of the West Bay Sector Plan — their citizens, governments, infrastructure planners, businesses, Chambers of Commerce, tourism organizations, and other interested parties need to begin the work of building a regional approach to defining the opportunity that is being created.

The newly formed Coastal Vision 3000 group is a great step in this direction. The narrow interests of the various counties and markets need to be moderated with a regional perspective.

More than nine months ago the airport and the Chambers of Commerce in Bay County along with their parallel economic development and tourism organizations came together to sponsor a forum to discuss these issues and subsequently created a Regional Airport Commerce Council to start building the kind of inter-agency task force needed to tackle the work that needs to be done.

Unfortunately, that effort has floundered.

It seems to me that the primary reasons for its failure are as follows. First, it was perhaps a little premature in its conception because if you’re not ready to put manpower on the tasks identified, then you’re doomed to do little more than spin your wheels.

Second, you can’t talk about a regional effort if it doesn’t extend beyond Bay County. For example, when you conclude there needs to be a broader tourism brand developed to embrace all the service areas impacted by the new airport, you have to build a process to engage all the people involved in that market. That applies to areas other than tourism as well. And, you’ve got to have a leader to manage the process.

Finally – and this is really important – there is a distinct lack of coordinated communications among the critical players in this process. The airport administration seriously needs to address this deficiency and take a leadership role in coordinating the messages its partners send about the airport.

The recent unfortunate spat over VPS closing perhaps could have been avoided had there been a communications plan in place at the airport and a strong communications presence on behalf of the Airport.

Now before someone gets too unhappy with these observations, I do recognize that there are specific actions that must be taken on the basis of political boundaries and authorities. However, once done it is essential that these actions be coordinated with those outside those boundaries who will be either affected by the actions of a political/legal entity or who could potentially assist the objectives in a broader, more regional approach.

If we can come together as a region, if we can overcome our propensity for turf battles, then I truly believe Northwest Florida claim its position as the best part of Florida – and we can serve as a shining example of a region that got it right.

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1 Woodie McCarty July 22, 2008 at 11:35 am

I fully agree with Dr. Ed Wright: Planning and Marketing Northwest Florida needs to become a top priority now. As a region, we have a unique opportunity to leverage a new airport and very desireable area to accompish more good for all concerned than could even be attempted by any single entity within the area. Tangible results could be achieved immediately.

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2 Mike Harmon July 22, 2008 at 12:48 pm

As an outsider who happens to own vacation rental property in the area, I say Dr. Wright is right on target. Your community has so much to offer and based on other coastal communities that I have invested in I think your area is a sleeping giant that is slowly waking up.

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