Tallahassee Has Come A Long Way

An explosion of economic development is quickly transforming Tallahassee and Leon County

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Ilya Litvak
Dave Barfield

Ben Pingree was born in Tallahassee and remembers the way it used to be. Long before Gaines Street began its transformation, long before CollegeTown was a twinkling in some developer’s eye, long before anyone even considered a concept known as Cascades Park or Innovation Park or the Mag Lab.

Today, he can’t conceal his excitement over the transformation of his town and county.

“I have seen the changes in terms of economic development and quality of life. It’s happening!” says Pingree, who in August took over as executive vice president of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County (EDC). “This job at this time is really thrilling. You really get the sense we’re in a great place, we’re on the verge of something in terms of private investment and private economic development that is different than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

Indeed, Tallahassee and Leon County have come a long way. 

Among the catalysts for economic growth have been the research and development efforts of Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College. The Mag Lab alone has had a $250 million impact. Startup companies from Domi Station, the county’s first business incubator, have generated $3 million in revenue. The 1,000 acres surrounding Tallahassee International Airport are being evaluated for development opportunities. New economic endeavors range from small startup companies to international businesses. Plans are in the works for a new arena district. 

Nearly everywhere one looks, there is development and growth. The urban core and the population are growing. The population of the Tallahassee area is 284,000, which is a 3.1 percent increase over the last four years and a more than 20 percent increase since 2000. And signs of the county’s growing economic prosperity can especially be seen spreading east and further north. 

Over the past 20 years, the city’s commercial property values have increased by 118 percent to nearly $2.4 billion, and the number of commercial parcels has jumped from 2,613 to 4,067. And while Tallahassee was once known primarily as a government town, 52 percent of the area’s economy is now driven by private enterprise while government’s influence has dropped to 32 percent. The gross domestic product in the four-county region dominated by Leon County went from $13.4 billion in 2010 to $14.2 billion in 2014, with $9.3 billion of that coming from private industry.

“We’re on a long-term journey,” says Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College who served the past two years as chairman of the EDC. “But look at how far we’ve come. The key word is stability. We are in the first stages of the next growth.”

Looking ahead, First Commerce Credit Union CEO Cecilia Homison, the new EDC chair for the coming two years, wants to focus on taking note of the region’s assets, finding ways to keep new FSU and FAMU graduates in town, retaining companies and helping them expand by assisting them in understanding what local help is available to them.

“The EDC will continue to elevate its game,” she told those who attended the EDC’s annual meeting. “This is a team effort. We need to provide results.” 

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