What We Earn


What We EarnYou work hard for your paycheck, but how does it compare in our Emerald Coast Salary Survey? 

By Anita Doberman 

"How much do you make?”

In some cultures, that’s just polite conversation – about as delicate as talking about the weather. Ours is not one of those cultures. But, as is often the case, what’s not being talked about is frequently foremost on our minds.

For such a simple question, “Who Makes What?” covers some complicated territory. For some people, salary is an afterthought to doing what they love; for others, what they’re doing is an afterthought to their salary. What we get paid – and, more to the point, what other people get paid – can be a source of pride, anxiety, hope and disillusionment, sometimes all at the same time.

The picture is especially complex here on the Emerald Coast. For one thing, it’s hard to talk about historical data anywhere in Florida, where a steady stream of emigrants from regions north ensures that the population and economy constantly are expanding. Quite simply, we live where other people want to live – and more than a few of them eventually do, bringing with them skills, children and money, along with a demand for goods and services to spend it on.

The geography of our area also makes us unique. The counties of the Panhandle tend to run north to south, with often dramatic differences in demography between the coast and areas inland. We are a region in which small, quiet towns that share the look, feel and accent of the Deep South share their counties with bustling tourist destinations full of parasailers and big-city transplants. There really is no “typical” resident of the Gulf Coast.

What’s more, while the real estate boom (R.I.P., alas), the glitz of the beach and the geographic differences ensure a wide range of wealth, our economy is rooted in two major industries – tourism and the military – that exert powerful moderating forces on local wages. Together, they employ tens of thousands of people directly, and hundreds of thousands more indirectly. The tourism

industry attracts many people who are lured more by the nature of the work, and the chance to live and work in paradise, than by salaries alone. And the military averages out some of the highs and lows of local wages, providing enormous stability to Emerald Coast employment with consistent paychecks that don’t break the bank but usually cover the rent.

If there’s a theme, then, to the paychecks in our sun-kissed region, it’s variety and change, with a strong current of stability and growth. And, as with life, whether you think incomes here are high or low depends a lot on perspective. Compared to Florida as a whole, we earn more than average, but well below many coastal counties in South Florida. Compared to our closer neighbors across the South, however, the Emerald Coast more than earns its prosperous-sounding name.

Of course, how much you make doesn’t always matter. After all, regardless of your income, the sun remains free, and all the money in the world can’t stop a hurricane. In some of the most important measures, it seems, all residents of the Gulf Coast are equal.


Around the watercooler: Salary Q&A

By Erica Spivey 


Kirk McHenryKirk McHenry  |  Engineering Maintenance Technician
St. Joe Company WaterColor Resort

How long have you worked at your job?
Eighteen months.

How much do you get paid?
Twelve dollars an hour.

What does your job give you that is rewarding?
I enjoy fixing things, and it is gratifying to make the homeowners happy when you repair something they thought couldn’t be fixed. Also, the environment and atmosphere I work in is absolutely beautiful.

How frequent do you receive wage increases?
I received $11.50 for a year and then 6 months ago I was given a 50-cent raise.

Do you feel comfortable with your wage increases?
The maintenance department is allotted around a 4.5-percent raise annually, and it is performance-based. Therefore, I don’t feel comfortable with my wage, because I feel the maintenance department in particular should be compensated more.

Would you consider your salary as an acceptable tradeoff for an exceptional quality of life?
Yes. I love my job. I work at one of the most beautiful resorts in Florida and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.



Ryan WegnerRyan Wegner  |  Certified Registered Anesthetist
Fort Walton Beach Medical Center

How long have you worked at your job?
Eighteen months.

How much do you get paid?
Current salary: $135,000.

Do you feel comfortable with your wage and feel you get paid what you deserve?
Yes. My salary is right in the middle and very typical for this area. I also recognize that there is a high demand and shortage of supply for what I do. Therefore, the job security is great, and I am always in the driver seat.

What are your hours like?
I start at 6:30 a.m. and work until my agenda is complete. On average, I work eight to 12 hours a day, 40 to 50 hours a week. The overtime is sustainable, so I never mind working a little extra.

Since salaries in this demographic fall short of the statewide average, do you feel your wage is fair?
I recognize some neighboring institutes may pay a little more, but I have to remember the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. For instance, some establishments pay more because they offer a sign-on bonus; consequently, I feel my salary is average and fair for this area.



QuenAnn RobinsonQuenAnn Robinson  |  Walton County Student Program in Community Education Coordinator
Bay Elementary School

How long have you worked at your job?
I previously worked as a SPICE coordinator for four years but have been at Bay Elementary in Walton County since August 2006.

How much do you get paid?
I gross around $3,400 a month. It averages out to about $17.50 an hour.

What is the most rewarding part about your job?
Just knowing that I am someone each child can trust and feel good about coming to if they have a problem is very comforting

How often do you receive wage increases?
Even though SPICE is a private program, it is filtered through the school system, and I am a Walton County School District employee. Therefore, the typical wage increase takes place annually.

Since salaries in this demographic fall short of the statewide average, do you feel your wage is fair?
Yes, I consider my wage to be fare compared to other individuals who do the same thing I am doing, primarily because I presume I get paid a little bit more than even teachers’ aides get paid.



Bobby MaloneyBobby Maloney  |  Sergeant
Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office

How long have you worked at your job?
Since April 1, 1990.

How much do you get paid?
Current salary: $69,000.


Approximately what have the annual increases percentages been in your salary?
Anywhere from 4 to 6 percent.

What are some of the incentives you receive at your job?
Continuous training and continuing educational opportunities.

Since salaries in this demographic fall short of the statewide average in almost every, category do you feel your wage is fare compared to other individuals in this demographic?
Yes. The sheriff of Okaloosa County and leaders in this community have do ne a great job recognizing the people who serve our neighborhood, and we are compensated well.



Wilma OttWilma Ott  |  Director of First Impression
Chuck Lawson’s Agency DeFuniak Springs

How much do you get paid?
I make approximately $25,000 a year.

How long have you worked at your job?
Eight months.

Do you see potential opportunity for growth with the company you are employed with?
I see potential for a lot of growth. I have started from the bottom, and I am slowly but surely working my way up. Who knows – one day I may have my own agency.

Since salaries in this demographic fall short of the statewide average, do you feel your wage is fair?
I think my wage is fare. I am not doing too much work, and at the same time I am training and studying to better my skill in the field I am working in. Also, as my skills increase, my wage increases – which is a good incentive to study hard and push myself to new levels of growth.

Do you have benefits?
Yes. I have a good retirement, medical, and a life insurance plan.


Salary Stories

By Anita Doberman

Scott YeatmanScott Yeatman  |  Pilot
U.S. Air Force

We often pay lip service to the diversity that flavors our lives, but the military presence on the Emerald Coast – home to fighter wings and special operators – ensures that our neighbors are anything but boring. Scott Yeatman, an Air Force major and pilot, first joined the Army Reserve out of high school but later left for college, earning a pharmacy degree, which he eventually used to return to military service as an Air Force officer.

But little boys don’t grow up dreaming of being Air Force pharmacists, and the call to fly was too strong. Six years later and he’s “driving” those massive gray helicopters you sometimes see (and often hear) plying the Gulf Coast skies.

As a civilian pharmacist in New Mexico, Yeatman earned about $65,000 in 1997 dollars. It’s hard to make direct comparisons with military work, since so much remuneration is in the form of benefits and allowances, but he now earns roughly what he would have in his previous job. A military officer, especially one earning flight pay, never will get rich but can definitely live comfortably.

“It’s a lifestyle, a culture you buy into,” the married father of three said of the military career – a statement that implies both ups and downs. Few other jobs offer similar excitement, camaraderie or opportunities for leadership, but few other jobs make the demands of danger, deployments and separation from family.

“It’s more than just a job,” Yeatman said. “It defines who you are.”



Josh RobinsonJosh Robinson  |  Front Desk Manager
Emerald Grande

Desk” may be in his job title, but this is no desk job. Josh Robinson is in the thick of the Gulf Coast tourist industry as a front desk manager at the Emerald Grande resort. The hours can be long and the work challenging – the customer, after all, is always right – but Robinson loves the dynamic environment and the chance to interact with guests.

“We want to offer our guests the best experience and we strive for excellence, so it’s demanding,” Robinson said of the Emerald Grande. As he explained, the Emerald Coast increasingly is home to some of the best hotels and resorts in the country. The trend has been much less “redneck,” much more “Riviera.”

“I’ve been in the hospitality business for a number of years, first in Tennessee and now in Northwest Florida,” Robinson said. Trading the Smoky Mountains for the beach was a big change of venue, but top-notch customer care still is the name of the game.

He is happy about his choice of careers, and even long hours or vacation-time surges can’t dampen his enthusiasm.

“My job offers me full benefits … the hospitality industry offers many great opportunities for growth and development,” Robinson said.

It takes a special person to work so that others can enjoy themselves – but for those with the right work ethic and attitude, the Emerald Coast’s thriving hospitality industry might be the right fit.



Catherine MannCatherine Mann  |  Author

Local readers of romantic fiction, particularly the growing field of romance suspense, might be surprised to know that one of the stars of the genre lives right under their nose. With more than a million books in print, Catherine Mann, who writes under the Harlequin/Silhouette label, is a Gulf Coast original.

“While my stories are sometimes set around the world, I have a series of suspense novels that focuses on a squadron of fliers based out of Hurlburt Field here in the Panhandle,” Mann said. “The next book in that series – ‘On Target’ – landed on shelves this July.”

Mann is not only a writer but a mother of four, so the flexibility of her job is a powerful perk.

“Deadline Week is often hectic, and my family has learned to fend for themselves during that time … (but) for the most part, I’m able to adjust my writing obligations around family needs and events,” she said.

Contractually, Mann can’t share her income with us, but she does caution that writing is a labor of love, not a path to wealth. Even most successful writers measure “success” by getting published, not getting rich.

“Writing is absolutely a calling for me!” she said. “The stories build in my mind, begging to be told. It’s an amazing thrill to see them in print.”


Pick up a copy of the latest Emerald Coast Magazine to see a listing of regional, local, and state officials' annual salaries.