From the Publisher

Fact: The Sun Will Rise in the East Tomorrow

By Brian Rowland, Publisher

I’d be shocked if there is any disagreement with the above headline or the following statements: Taxes are assessed on income; death is a fact of life; and Northwest Florida will experience unprecedented growth over the next 20 years.

That last “fact” started you thinking, didn’t it?

Northwest Florida is poised for substantial growth over the next two decades – the kind analysts eventually will compare with Orlando’s experience after “The Mouse” arrived in 1971. If we begin to prepare for this inevitable change now, the results can be nothing short of a success.

And while some may say my hypothesis is emotion-based, the indicators prompting this growth are nothing short of undisputable facts, beginning with the baby boomers.

These folks, myself included, born between 1946 and 1964, will create a strong force of change for America’s future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 78.2 million baby boomers alive in 2005. The oldest boomers turned 60 in 2006. And by the year 2030, 57.8 million boomers will be 66 or older – well into their retirement years.

Millions of people of this generation will be heading to Florida, already one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. And with the northwest region of the state still holding its fair share of undeveloped land, it’s obvious a great many boomers will relocate to this area.

When I travel across the Panhandle to visit the markets in which Rowland Publishing Inc. publishes magazines, I see other signs of change in the form of infrastructure improvements and development.

The 2025 Florida Transportation Plan is dedicating more than $160 billion in funding to improve transportation needs in the state through a 20-year initiative that already has begun.

More than $500 million has been invested in building or widening bridges including the much-used Mid Bay Toll Bridge, spanning the bay between Niceville and Destin.

Transportation overhead also progresses through airport development, including the recent final approval of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport. This much-anticipated airport will bring overseas flights and more convenient domestic air travel.

Land development on the Emerald Coast proceeds as Howard Group’s Grand Boulevard continues to unfold and move economic growth into Walton County, and Legendary Inc.’s Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village spurs the gentrification of the Destin Harbor.

Growth also is evident for our neighbors to the east with St. Joe’s purchase of the Bay County Shark’s Tooth Golf Course and 28 homesites in the Wild Heron development, as well as The Simon Property Group Inc.’s Pier Park, a 1.1-million-square-foot retail facility in Panama City Beach  scheduled to open in March.

Hospitals are opening and expanding, including Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, which recently added a women’s health care center, and new expansions at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. Another Sacred Heart Hospital is under way in Port St. Joe.

These companies have done their research and have made a solid commitment through multimillion-dollar capital investments.

A leader for change has been St. Joe, developer of the mixed-use communities WaterColor and WaterSound and one of the largest private land holders in the state. We should continue to look to this proactive developer to improve the area, along with our quality of life.

As we watch all of this activity and more happening around us, we must not be impassioned bystanders – we must get involved. I propose governing bodies and members of the private sector do their homework to understand the risks and the benefits of moving forward. The result will be improved roads, education and health services, as well as increased employment and social programs.

We are the generation of public and private leaders who have the opportunity to make Northwest Florida and its Emerald Coast succeed by supporting wisely managed growth and development.

Some people may take exception to my outlook for Northwest Florida, especially a few news columnists in the area who have made up their minds and resist new facts.

Let’s not be influenced by those who have chosen to bury their heads in the sugar-white sands of Northwest Florida or be affected by the few unable to understand that change is going to happen. We must focus on how we can best prepare for the coming 20 years and the many opportunities this amazing evolution will bring to Northwest Florida.