Proposed 6,000-acre master-planned project north of Pensacola
The numbers are staggering.
According to the master plan, 10 projects will be recruited to occupy more than 3.9 million square feet of building space on 295 acres of land. There will be nearly $400.5 million in construction, with companies creating 6,000 jobs, which will pay some $2.1 billion in wages.
Another 9,000-plus jobs with aggregate wages of roughly $1.8 billion will result from indirect employment. In addition, a cumulative amount of approximately $59 million in ad valorem tax revenue could be generated for the local county.
To break the impact down even further, the potential economic benefit of every 10 acres of this development during the first 25 years equals 134,000 square feet of taxable new building space; $13.6 million in construction value and related costs; and $132 million in wages (give or take a few million) from direct and indirect jobs in the regional economy.
That is what’s at stake in Escambia County — at least potentially — with an emerging project called The Bluffs, Northwest Florida’s Industrial Campus.
The Bluffs is a master-planned project of more than 6,000 acres earmarked for industrial /manufacturing development with emphasis on energy-intensive industries, located slightly north of Pensacola. The campus is bordered to the east by the Escambia River and to the south by the University of West Florida. The location is complemented by a wide range of sites and physical configurations, multimodal access (road, rail and barge), a skilled workforce and a county government intent on attracting newcomers. Just for starters.
Now all that has to arrive is the first tenant. The sell, in earnest, has now begun.
“That’s always the big question,” acknowledges Scott Luth, CEO of the FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance. “It’s hard to put a timeframe on it. There’s been interest from companies. It’s just one of those things where you never know.”
FloridaWest is the marketing and support arm of the Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission, the development authority supported by the city, the county and the private sector. Among the partners are the university, Gulf Power Company, Ascend Performance Materials, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance, itself, consists of more than 100 public and private entities. “This is definitely a community project. We have a lot of partners trying to work on this,” Luth comments.
The project’s origins date back to 2011, with initial development handled by the Greater Pensacola Chamber. In early committee work, it was dubbed Project FOIL — Forward Operating Industrial Location.
These days, Luth calls it something else: a game-changer. “We can definitely say this is a game-changing investment for us and the state. This will allow the state to be competitive in areas where it hasn’t in the past,” he says.
“What’s unique about the site is that you’ve got a billion dollars of infrastructure already in place. … If you were to replicate what we have there, you would have to spend a lot of money.”
Both rail service and shallow draft barge service are available to portions of the industrial campus, which is supported by public water and sewer, electric power, natural gas and telecommunications services. There is the availability of process steam, reclaimed water, methane and other industrial by-products that provide the nucleus of an industrial eco-park. Physical characteristics such as elevation of much of the site provides natural benefits to some industrial processes. The development is so named by virtue of 100-foot elevations on a bluff that runs through Escambia County.
Also, there is abundant available labor. According to a Wadley Donovan Growtech study, The Bluffs can provide manufacturers with access to a significantly sized workforce that is forecasted to grow at a strong pace over the next five years. Average employee earnings in the Pensacola MSA are lower than both the national average and most competing metro areas. Meanwhile, the area’s sizable concentration of former military personnel creates a pool of highly educated and technically trained workers.
The big sell: The Bluffs offers a combination of large sites for heavy manufacturing supported by sound infrastructure and connectivity.
Luth’s targets are widespread, but Ascend Performance Materials serves as the model of what could happen down the road, literally. The company manufactures chemicals, fibers and plastics products for use in various commercial and industrial products — employing approximately 800 people in the area.
Luth is maintaining patience and following a plan. “We view this as a long-term asset,” he says.
While prospective companies — and prospective competitors from other regions — vary depending on the land use, energy-intensive companies could hold the key. “If you’re strictly looking at best use of this site, it’s them,” he offers.
The Bluffs is open for business.
There are no sticks in the ground quite yet, but indeed there are big stakes.