FORT WALTON BEACH — Gulf Power plans to launch a new initiative next month to make Northwest Florida more aggressive in attracting businesses to the region.
Hundreds of acres are waiting to be developed by companies looking to open, move or expand in industrial parks and other locations.
Stan Connally, president and CEO of Gulf Power, said his company plans to oversee a site certification program in which it would partner with economic development organizations and local governments to partially develop some of the vacant sites to make it easier for businesses to locate there.
Called site certification, the process would involve clearing the land, installing some utilities and transportation infrastructure, and start the permitting process for future development. After the work is completed, the sites would be added to a national registry of properties ready for development.
"Businesses want to know they can go somewhere and get going quickly," Connally told the Northwest Florida editorial board earlier this week. "That the permitting is not going to be a problem, the land is not going to be an issue, that they know ahead of time that all that stuff is set up for them. It just gets you in the game quicker and gives you some edge.
"As you look at the states that we compete with in the South, namely Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, all three of those states today have site certification programs and Florida does not," he added.
Gulf Power plans to launch its initiative April 10 at an event attended by city, county, chamber and economic development officials from around the region. It will be the first site certification initiative in the state.
Connally said Gulf Power initially will target sites that are about 50 acres — large enough to accommodate manufacturers, among other industries.
"I think we can position Northwest Florida as a region that becomes more attractive nationally for economic development," Connally said. "I think that’s a role that Gulf Power ought to play."
Connally said the goal is to have a number of sites certified and ready for development in 24 months.
One area he wants to focus is on is subcontracting businesses for the Airbus project in Mobile, Ala. Some of the suppliers to the Airbus factory have already expressed an interest in this region.
"Shame on us if we don’t get some of that new business," Connally said. "We just need to get out there and be aggressive and have the sites now so when the suppliers are looking we’ll have something to show them. Alabama is going to be showing them a lot."
Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.