The first piston on an economic engine to the east of Crestview has fired – meaning Niceville’s northern neighbor may be on the precipice of even faster growth over the next couple of years.
Okaloosa County Commissioners approved a letter of agreement with a company listed in the Okaloosa County Commission Agenda as LS2. The agenda says the company is “a diversified manufacturer of finished products and components for the energy sector.”
According to Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey – who brought the project in front of the Commission for a vote along with One Okaloosa (EDC) President Nathan Sparks, the project is “One of the best prospects we’ve seen.” Coffey added, “hats off to the EDC for bringing it in front of us.”
In exchange for a $10,000 per acre purchase price of 48 acres in Shoal River Ranch Gigasite, the company promises the county it will create 350 ‘high-wage’ jobs (jobs that pay more than the ~$49,000 median income for Okaloosa County workers). In order to fulfill this promise – the company would have a payroll of at least $17.37 million annually.
While the deal is not final – the letter of agreement that both parties have signed signals that a final deal that will see the company move into Shoal River Ranch is very likely. Indeed, a purchase agreement should be signed in the next 45 days, according to the letter of agreement which saw pen put to paper on Tuesday.
Should this project progress to completion, it means three things for Niceville – some 20 miles south of the project as the crow flies.
No one really wants to be the first investor in something – it’s risky. So getting the first ‘investor’ who’s willing to commit to building up a facility in a large project is a huge win. It means more people will see an opportunity with a decreased risk – and take the plunge themselves. Commissioner Nathan Boyles said as much from the dais of the County Commission meeting in Crestview before the measure’s unanimous approval.
“I’m optimistic that this will be that first hardest step that we had to get in order to then spur further development,” Boyles said, adding that he ‘think[s the project] fits pretty squarely within the type of industry that we want to ultimately bring the right type of jobs and opportunity to our community.”
One of my favorite statistics I learned while working for Okaloosa County as the public affairs guy was that more than two out of every three dollars of gross domestic product created in Okaloosa County is made because of Eglin Air Force Base’s mission. While this is awesome (Eglin is worth about $6.5 Billion with a B in annual economic production to Okaloosa County, according to a report by One Okaloosa in 2018), it also means that we are vulnerable to two things – Congressionally-mandated base-realignment and Hurricanes.
Hurricanes are easy to explain. In 2018, when Hurricane Michael hit Mexico Beach, near Tyndall Air Force Base – the local economy suffered a catastrophic hit from the drop off in tourism and the movement of airmen and material from Tyndall to Eglin and other bases farther away. How much did it cost? According to Insideclimatenews.com, a pulitzer-prize winning journalism outlet that covers climate change, the hurricane cost the Bay County Area more than $5 Billion. That doesn’t count the losses sustained by the tourism industry or other industries in the area. FEMA says they gave more than $3.1 Billion to help restore the area affected by Hurricane Michael.
But hurricanes aren’t the only threat Okaloosa County faces from a siloed economy. The far worse threat is base re-alignment (or BRAC), as it’s most commonly known. According to this paper about BRAC by Mark Cancian and Raymond DuBois for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, not only does actual base-realignment (where bases are closed and their missions are moved elsewhere) hurt a local economy, but the threat of closure does as well. Cancian and DuBois note, “The specter of BRAC hangs over communities with underutilized military installations and stagnated local economic development regardless of whether or not a new round of realignments and closures was authorized or not. This specter reduces private-sector investment around these installations.”
In short, the need to diversify our local economy is vital to ensuring that people’s homes are worth something in 20 years – and that their jobs will still be here to make the mortgage payment.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to know that the farther away from the water you get, the less money an acre of land in Okaloosa County will fetch from a fair-market buyer. Just a quick look at Zillow will tell you that the average home in Destin ($663,000) will cost you more than the average house in Niceville ($455,862), which is more expensive than a place to live in Crestview ($301,699) or Laurel Hill ($202,070).
But a rising tide lifts all ships, especially when it comes to taxing revenue. The County Government and School District make up the lion’s share of your property tax bill. All in all, they netted almost half a billion dollars in taxes last year through a variety of taxes, grants, state and federal money. Your money.
If a big business, like the one that is proposed to move into Shoal River Ranch, gets built and provides jobs – more people will move into the area. More people will need more houses and good ol’ American-Style supply and demand will take place, bringing up the price for a house in Crestview or Laurel Hill. That increase in home value means an increase in property taxes. An increase in property taxes means more money for the government to spend on things like new schools or roads – money that isn’t coming out of Niceville residents’ pockets. After all, people in Niceville or Destin are paying more on their property taxes for the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms than people in Crestview or Laurel Hill. But, when property values increase in Crestview or Laurel Hill, that means they can foot the bill for things we all need – and the extra cost doesn’t come down on the people further south.
Tracy Jennette, a Niceville-area Realtor, says that those people in Crestview will help foot the bill for their schools – reducing the cost of education county-wide, especially for places with higher property values like Niceville and Destin. “Any time there are more homes and construction, there will be more tax revenue,” Jennette said, “and that means the need to raise taxes will be less going forward.” Essentially, the people in Crestview will cut the need for taxing entities to raise taxing rates going forward because they will be increasing property values and paying the taxes on those increased property values. “It will result in a more equal distribution of taxing between the north end of the county and the south end,” Jennette added, “DR Horton and other large builders are already looking at constructio in the area around the Shoal River Ranch. You’ll have more demand and higher prices in a place that already had short supply.”
So, more jobs, more houses, more people, but a lower per capita tax burden – coming soon to Niceville and Valparaiso residents.