Northwest Florida offers great opportunities for new businesses

What better time to kick off a campaign to let those shivering Northerners know that there is a better place to hang their hat?

Growing up in New York, even after 45 years away I still vividly remember what the coming of winter felt like. The days grew short, the winds got stronger and more biting, a late fall rainstorm would leave you chilled to the bone.  We had lots of cold and rainy Halloweens, but I don’t remember one with snow.

So, naturally, my heart went out this fall to those young trick or treaters from my home state when I read the headlines about the “Halloween nightmare” that brought more than 20 inches of snow to some parts of the Northeast. This, I thought, could be the harbinger of yet another long, cold winter for the Northern states. This, I thought, could also be the beginning of a great advertising campaign for Northwest Florida.

The nice thing about our region is that we do have seasons. Unlike South Florida, where it’s warm year-round and everything stays green, we do have trees that provide us with fall colors and winter months where the temperature dips enough to where we get the fireplace going and take our heavy coats out of the closet. But it doesn’t last long — and having lived in Tallahassee now for nearly 31 years, I can attest to the fact that we even have had Christmas Days where it was more comfortable to wear shorts than jeans.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about foreign trade missions to bring more business to Florida. But what better time to kick off a campaign to let those shivering Northerners know that there is a better place to hang their hat?

Community leaders representing a broad range of interests have come together to kick off a concerted national campaign in 2012 that sends the message we’re open for business and ready to welcome retirees.

Northwest Florida offers great opportunities for new businesses — and you have to believe that a lot of business owners north of the Mason Dixon are already thinking there has got to be a better place to relocate to — and it’s a place that offers the varied amenities needed to lure retirees from the northern climes.

Want good health care? We’ve got it. Want culture? From opera to ballet to museums filled with wondrous art, we’ve got it. Higher education opportunities? They abound across the region — with programs to train workers for new jobs or to give older adults the opportunity to expand their education in retirement. Tax breaks? There are plenty to go around for businesses looking to relocate or expand. And, needless to say, there is no state personal income tax and the state corporate tax keeps dwindling.

There’s a new organization that has formed in Tallahassee called “Choose Tallahassee.” Its aim is to convince retiring Baby Boomers (according to AARP research, roughly one in four is willing to relocate) to consider retirement in Tallahassee. Community leaders representing a broad range of interests have come together to kick off a concerted national campaign in 2012 that sends the message we’re open for business and ready to welcome retirees. If they succeed — even just attracting one-tenth of one tenth of 1 percent of the market, or 2,000 new residents — it would add $370 million a year directly to the area’s economy and give the housing market a big shot in the arm. Not surprisingly, local real estate firms are already jumping on the bandwagon.

$370 million. Not a number to sniff at. And who knows what entrepreneurial souls might come along with those retirees? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

So, the message? Hey, baby, it may already be cold outside where you are, but this is a glorious time of year in Northwest Florida. You don’t have to worry about your employees being snowed in or the power to your business being out for the next week.

When Gulf Power held its annual economic development summit last month in Sandestin, the message that resounded through two days of meetings focused on the need to promote regionalism, for the 16 counties of Northwest Florida to think like a region.

With winter coming on in the North, it presents a perfect opportunity for Northwest Florida to promote itself. But even if that regional approach is not possible yet, it’s serves as a good opportunity for our many communities to think about what type of appeal they might make to prospective new residents and businesses who live sometimes just a day’s drive away — not half a world away.

Categories: Opinion