Thursday, January 26, 2012


Crestview is becoming a College Town. University of Northwest State Florida, University of West Florida, Troy University, Florida A&M University, and now Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have made a home in Crestview Florida recently.

Embry-Riddle to open Crestview campus
By Paula Kelley
2012-01-26 10:11:21

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is opening a Crestview campus in February, prior to the March 19 beginning of spring term. "We already had a large student population from the north end of Okaloosa County and we were looking for a location, and with the Base Realignment and Closure that brought the 7th Special Forces (Airborne) to the area, the south side of Crestview was the perfect location," said Ron Garriga, director of academic support for ERAU Fort Walton Beach campus, which works closely with Eglin Air Force Base students. Work is underway to complete the new campus, located on the second floor of a building at the corner of South Ferdon Boulevard and Southview Drive, above Pelican Real Estate. "We are thrilled to be so near completion of this project," Garriga said. "We hope to announce plans for our grand opening event at the end of February and have students in the classrooms in March." Garriga, who is also the director of academic support for the Hurlburt Field teaching site and the CHOICE Aviation Institutes at Choctawhatchee and Crestview high schools, said people have been calling about the Crestview campus ever since signs went up in November 2011 marking the new location. "People are excited about classrooms closer to their work or near their home," he said. Part of the impetus for the Crestview location was growth in the aviation industry. "ERAU is the front runner in knowing the needs of the workplace when it comes to aviation related jobs and we have seen the growth around the Crestview Airport and in aviation related contracts that make up this area of Florida," Garriga said. "Degree programs for Associate in Arts and Bachelor in Science degrees that will be taught on-ground in our Crestview classrooms will include AS/BS degrees in professional aeronautics, technical management, and aviation maintenance," Garriga said "We will also offer on-ground Master of Aeronautical Science and Master of Business Administration in Aviation degrees," said Ashley McCallum, associate director of academic support, who will oversee the Crestview campus. "We also offer certificate programs and preparation for airframe and powerplant license." Courses are nine weeks in duration, shorter than the traditional full semester. Four classrooms will offer state-of-the-art audiovisual technology learning centers with classes of 25 to 30 students each. "The Crestview campus will also feature Eagle Vision," Garriga said. "It is real-time audio/video feed into a classroom in another area of the globe. We find that students still feel as if they are in that classroom regardless of the location of the physical classroom. "Eagle Vision is live interaction and the students build relationships with the instructors," he said. "It is an amazing modality that engages the student."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Another great opportunity for folks around the country to enjoy the Emerald Coast. I expect it will greatly increase our visitors to the area. Southwest Airlines has a great footprint around the country and should be a great vehicle for visitors to experience what our part of the country offers.

Southwest expands to Pensacola
PCNH Writer   747-5076 Twitter: @PCNHpatkelly
WEST BAY — The decision by Southwest Airlines to continue AirTran routes between Pensacola and Atlanta will have little effect on Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), Bay County officials said. “For now, I don’t see any change from the announcement,” airport executive director John Wheat said Tuesday. “There is really no change in service.” AirTrain Airways, with its hub in Atlanta, merged with Southwest in May, and officials have been working to integrate the two operations, keeping some routes and closing others, Southwest spokeswoman Brandi King said Tuesday. The decision to retain at least some flights at Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport gives Southwest its first foothold in that city after both Pensacola and Okaloosa County’s Northwest Florida Regional Airport lost out to ECP in 2010 to bring Southwest to their respective airports. In the agreement that brought Southwest to ECP, the low-cost carrier agreed not to operate from any airport within a certain radius that included Okaloosa County but not Pensacola. King said the ongoing integration means AirTran’s hub system is being absorbed into Southwest’s point-to-point model which has successfully operated without a central hub. Delta Air Lines, the other major bay County carrier, operates daily flights to and from ECP and its hub is in Atlanta. King said Southwest will begin adding point-to-point flights to and from Atlanta in February, but it was too soon to speculate whether Southwest might one day operate from ECP to Atlanta in direct competition with Delta. As for Pensacola, “There is a little bit of difference in the passenger base,” she said. Wheat said his budget this year includes money for the airport to conduct an “analysis of airport development” that will help airlines make decisions on including routes at ECP. “There is a lot of competition among airports,” he said. Such a study, which is listed on today’s Airport Authority board agenda, would allow ECP to accumulate data on the airport’s fees and strengths, as well as local nearby communities such as Panama City, Panama City Beach and Destin, for use in marketing and airline decision-making.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Congratulations to Santa Rosa and Okaloosa County School Districts for being tops in the State. This is just another reason why many are flocking to the area to take advantage of the job growth and quality of life this area has to offer.

Students shine in Santa Rosa
School district ranked No. 2 in state; Okaloosa sixth
Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4440
Santa Rosa County is the second best school district in the state, according to data released by the Florida Department of Education this week. The local school district earned the distinction after its students earned 576 out of a possible 800 points on the FCAT. The top school district in the state, St. Johns, earned 594 points. “There’s a lot of press right now about the standards getting tougher and there’s no doubt about that,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Emerson. “The bottom line is that when you compare us in Florida, we do a really good job.” Emerson said he was not surprised by Santa Rosa County’s ranking because students and teachers historically have performed well despite changing standards. “I think that despite whatever rating system they come up with for schools, Santa Rosa is going to come out at the top,” Emerson said. The rankings were released as part of an effort to simplify school assessments for parents and the community, FDOE officials said. The FDOE used FCAT scores to establish the rankings in a more “userfriendly format” than previously was available on the department’s website, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a video posted online with the data. The district data eventually will be available in more detailed categories with rankings for elementary, middle and high schools. FDOE officials are not sure when that data will be released. Okaloosa County also earned a statewide nod after it came in sixth overall with a score just four points behind Santa Rosa. Walton County was ranked 17th in the state. “Okaloosa County is very pleased and honored to be ranked in the top districts in this state,” Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts said, adding the rankings were a snapshot of a much bigger picture. She said it is important to consider the demographics of each district and its performance in areas other than the FCAT. Okaloosa County, for example, does not have as many English-as-a-Second-Language students, students with disabilities or minorities as some of the districts farther down in the rankings, she said. Okaloosa County has outperformed many schools in terms of high school dropout rates and accelerated coursework performance, Tibbetts said. “I think we all have to take into account multiple measures of success as well as demographics,” Tibbetts said. The top 30 school districts in the state all received A grades while the next 23 districts earned a B grade, 13 earned a C grade and one district earned a D grade.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Great news for the local area. As we continue to reap the benefits of the BRAC 2005 Decision to move the 7th Special Forces Group, F-35 Training Squadron to Eglin and many other programs, projects, and businesses moving here to our area, our construction crews as working hard to keep up. From the many meetings and visits I have had across the county, there would be much more construction, however the lending has not been able to keep pace. With some recent restrictions placed on some local banks with FDIC Consent Orders, many builders are still seeking funding to get started on some great opportunities. Many of these builders are seeking non-traditional lending just to get out of the gate and into the game. I say, look out. As the thousands of new citizens move to the area and you set down with them, they say. Where is the shopping? These thousands of new folks moving to the area have some money to spend, but no place to spend it.

Local construction on the upswing
KARI C. BARLOW / Daily News
2012-01-15 21:38:14
The number of building permits issued in Okaloosa County has increased by 98 percent since 2009. “The bulk of it was due to the first influx of the 7th Special Forces coming to town,” county Growth Management Director Elliot Kampert said. “These guys have more long-term tenure in one location than most. … That enables these guys to buy homes.” Most of the construction has been in the central and northern parts of the county, he added. “This is a birds-of-a-feather kind of situation,” Kampert said. “We do tend to see them clustering inside of subdivisions.” The county issued 685 building permits from January to November 2011, compared to 465 permits during the same period in 2010. In 2009, the county issued 346 permits from January to November. County Administrator Jim Curry said the increase has given the county a moderate economic boost. “We hope to see that pace continue,” he said. Kampert said the jump in permits is good news for the county’s inspection department, which has cut about 20 employees since the housing downturn began. “Not only is it helping my enterprise fund, these guys are shopping in our stores now,” he said. “Their wives are shopping, and they’ve got kids getting into the (school) system. It’s all the peripherals.” The business of new construction multiplies across the county, Kampert said. “Now we’ve got an electrician working, a plumber working, and they have money to spend on stuff … It’s like throwing a pebble in a pond,” he added. Kampert said he hopes to see “an echo of 2011” this year and next as the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) fills out and military support troops arrive. His department is seeing activity on lots that have sat vacant since the start of the housing crash. “Back in the boom, people were platting everything they could get their hands on,” Kampert said. “So now we’re seeing subdivisions that maybe went through the preliminary phases … come back in for final approval, and those lots are ready to go.” Commercial building is not as busy. “We’re seeing a bit,” Kampert said. “It’s small strip centers, build-outs of projects that were started during the boom. Probably the big commercial thing we did last year was the new Lowe’s down in Destin.” Kampert said he has a “guarded optimism for 2012 and beyond.” “It’s going to take a little while,” he said. “You’re getting an infusion of a new aspect of our economy, and that has a very stabilizing effect.”

Friday, January 13, 2012


Things are getting brighter every day. Having attended this speaking engagement, it was quite clear excitement was in the air. But many of the contractors would be quick to say, I have requests to build homes and other commercial project, but the banks are not lending capital to help get them started. Line of credits have become non-existent to many contractors, no matter how strong their history. This problem seems to radiate throughout the room and they noted, alternative financing is being sought. It will be interesting how this plays out. Banks make money by lending. If they don’t lend soon, they will die a slow death.

Economist touts local job growth
Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4448
NICEVILLE — Between the recession and the 2010 oil spill, economist Rick Harper hasn’t had much good news to share the past four years. That changed Thursday morning when he was one of the guest speakers at the Building Industry Association of Okaloosa & Walton Counties’ 2012 Economic and Housing Forecast Breakfast. Harper, director of the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement, said the past three months have been very strong for job growth in Okaloosa County. For November, the latest month that data is available, the county had more than 93,500 jobs, which was up about 5,000 jobs from the previous year. “This is a happy economic forecast,” Harper said. “The last four years have been unmitigated misery, but as I sat down and looked at the data for today, I’m happy to say this is the brightest economic outlook I’ve done in the last four years.” Walton County also has seen strong job growth, Harper said. In the past decade, the county has grown from about 18,000 jobs to about 29,000 jobs. However, both counties still are below their peak employment during the boom years, when Okaloosa County had 97,000 jobs and Walton County had 31,000. Harper said one area in Northwest Florida that continues to struggle is local banking. He said local banks usually operate with a 4 percent loss margin on their loans, but the crash in the housing market has resulted in loss margin of about 14 percent. National banks returned to profitability at the end of 2009, Harper said. Florida banks returned to profitability at the beginning of 2011. However, the 19 regional banks chartered between Baldwin County, Ala., and Bay County have yet to return to profitability. Despite the challenges, Harper said local banks have started to rebound. “The good news is they look a heck of a lot better than they did a couple of years ago when they were generating a return on investments in the negative 4 to 5 percent range,” Harper said. “Things are getting better, but you have a ways to go before you get a return to health.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Just another reason why folks flock to the Panhandle of Florida. Congratulations to Niceville High School and the rest of the Okaloosa County school district.

Niceville High reaps success

School ranked top 25 despite no prescreening of students


Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4440 |

Niceville High School is one of four Florida schools sharing a distinction: It has no special admission requirements, yet it earned one of the highest rankings in the state grading system. Niceville, which ranked 21st out of all Florida high schools after earning 1,370 of a possible 1,600 points, would have been second if the ranking were based only on schools without any type of admission policies. “One of the things I’m most proud of is we educate every student who comes into our school,” said Niceville High School Principal Marcus Chambers. “The mission statement of Niceville High School is ‘Educate all students,’ and that’s what we do.” All high schools in Florida received grades last week based on how well they performed on a set of criteria established two years ago. Under the criteria, all public high schools receive points for their performance on the FCAT and five other factors including participation in advanced placement courses, college readiness and at-risk student graduation rates. Of the state’s top 25 schools, the first 11 have attendance requirements varying from invitation only to applications with grade point average requirements. The 12th school requires an application for enrollment in its magnet programs. Similar policies for special programs or academies within a school applied to the 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th place schools in the state. At Niceville High School, students long have been encouraged to take accelerated courses such as Advanced Placement or AICE, whether they score perfectly on the end-of-the-year exams or not, said Donnie Pridgen, the advanced studies coordinator for the school. “You’re not selected to take the class, you select to take the class,” said Patricia Mixon, who teaches AP English at the high school. The philosophy is a departure from where the school began with AP courses but seems to be working well, said Mixon, who has worked at NHS for 37 years. Of the 1,228 AP exams taken by 803 Niceville students last year, 65 percent passed the test, Pridgen said. “We don’t put them in there just to make the numbers look good,” he said. “They need to be at their appropriate level.” According to Florida Department of Education officials, that same policy of emphasizing accelerated courses is playing out across the state. In the past year, the DOE has shifted school grade points around to place a greater emphasis on performance in accelerated courses, not just participation, said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the DOE. “It’s not just get the kids in there; it’s get them to do well,” she said. The DOE initially emphasized participation but is shifting that policy to fit more rigorous education standards. For example, last year, schools were awarded up to 200 points for student participation in accelerated courses and 100 for student performance. This year, schools could earn up to 175 participation and 125 for performance. As of now, the state hasn’t done any studies to see how many of the top schools have admission policies or special programs, but state officials are definitely aware of advantages for those schools in state grading criteria, Etters said. Admission policies are not taken into account for school grades, she added. The only other local school to make the top 25 was Northwest Florida State College’s Collegiate High School. It was ranked No. 2 overall and first out of all the schools designated for high-school grades only. It has an admission policy.