Appreciating Florida more each winter

This is the time of year I really miss Panama City Beach. I know my fellow out-of-state property owners can sympathize with me as they are probably going through the same arctic blast, as I am this week. I’ve included a photo to represent the icy grip winter’s merciless fingers has on us here in the Midwest.

Sheets of ice

I was born and raised in California. One would think that living in Southwest Missouri for 34 years would have afforded me some sort of assimilation with the climate here. In all actuality for this Cali girl, my body and mind become more and more resistant of the winter season with each passing year. I mourn the passing of summer, while autumn prepares us for chilly things to come. And I now realize how I took the Bay Area’s gentle climate for granted.

Once my husband and I “discovered” Florida, it was like some part of my inner beach girl was reawakened. So now that we own property in PCB, every one of our visits there are precious to me. I’m a fish out-of-water here, and I may never acclimatize to SW Missouri.

Yes, Florida has its weather-related faults, as does the rest of the country. So for my own sanity, I do a comparison. Florida suffers draught, hurricanes, tornados and fires.

California has its draughts as well. That golden state also endures fires, floods, the San Andreas winds, snowstorms in the higher elevations, and to top it off, earthquakes. Getting the picture?

Let’s talk about my four-state area now. We woke up this morning to a blanket of ice over an inch thick, and this is just the beginning of what the meteorologists predict. We expect at least another inch in our part of Missouri, along with some snow. Since we nearly border NW Arkansas, we get to experience not only snow, but also ice storms that cripple our roadways, halt school attendance and shut down businesses. What normally takes my husband 35 minutes to drive home from work, took him three hours. A very prayerful three hours. Oh yeah, we get wildfires too. We are not exempt from earthquakes either, thanks to the New Madrid fault. We are in “tornado alley,” and often, springtime floods have devastated Missouri’s crops.

I may be living in Missouri, but I left my heart in Florida. I just wanted to encourage any of you on the Emerald Coast to keep your chin up when your temps dip below 45 degrees. And I know, at least financially, the toll a hurricane can take on a property owner’s morale. But if the fortunate Florida residents can step outside their “sand-box” for a moment and appreciate what a glorious state you live in, you’d understand why I miss it so much.

The ice is building on our power lines, threatening us with a possible outage and forcing us to stay in a hotel. The tropical plants in my sunroom will have to tough it out. The lows tonight will get to about 10 degrees, but there is hope. We may warm up to a balmy 35 degrees by Friday! My heart goes out to the residents in the states north of us. You may love it there, but you couldn’t pay this water baby to tolerate the winters you experience. So God bless ya!

I’m SO looking forward to our next sunny visit to the beach. It’s no wonder so many choose to migrate down to this beautiful area of the country. I know our guests from the north that come to enjoy our property feel the same way. The Emerald Coast of Florida is so appealing thanks to its powdery white sand, welcoming climate, and miles of gorgeous coastline. Florida – I miss you!

Travel News, by Debi Knight – Travel Trends and Predictions 09-10

Debi Knight, President
Panama City Beach Tourism Services

In the last four months, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of businesses, tour operators and multiple suppliers like myself in the travel/tourism industry. I have also been fortunate to attend numerous seminars on Green Travel, Packaging your Destination and Customer Service. I have 26 years in the tourism industry and it is amazing how much more you learn every day.

I would like to share some insights, facts, travel trends and predictions for 2009-10 year.

  • 78 million baby boomers will turn 65 over the next six years
  • 64% of leisure travelers make their decision two weeks out
  • 16% of leisure travelers make their decision in 48 hours
  • 74% of American’s said “Experience is more important than Glitz and Glamour” while on a trip
  • In today’s economy – people are looking for “Unique” and “Easy”
  • 47% of people that want “Green Travel”, stated they also spend more for green products
  • Online booking will be up 10% for 2009
  • Hotels are doing 50% of their booking online right now
  • 75% of people who book online – book through the brand
  • 10% of people that go to a website are just looking for phone numbers and details
  • 80% of people will go to an organic site compared to a sponsored link
  • Blogs have become very popular with businesses promoting their product
  • Girlfriend Getaways – research in 2008 reported – 50% of women took a Girlfriend Getaway, 2009 will jump to 90%
  • 75% of American’s “Travel to Party” – weddings, party bus, go crazy, reunions, etc.
  • Wedding Tourism – 18% of all weddings are outside of the bride and grooms home/area
  • Average wedding today cost $30,000
  • 81% of Americans pick their destination and property by photos – they will pick pictures over price
  • Eco Tours are more popular than ever

Debi Knight’s Company promotes the destination by attending Travel Trade Shows around the country, meeting with Tour Operators, Senior Group Travel, Student Youth Travel, Bank Group Travel, FIT and other associations. Her Company organizes Day Trips, Itineraries and Packages from St. George Island, Apalachicola and Tallahassee, Fl, all the way to gaming for the day in Biloxi, Ms. For more information regarding Travel Packages, Eco Tours, Area Events, Dining, Shopping, Attractions, Golf, Weddings and more visit

Publix on Back Beach Construction Update

012809_dunkin_2Holy Smokes, they seem to be flying over there.  Everytime I drive by it seems like they’ve made huge milestones in the development.  They are set to complete the project by April, so they are on the last few months until completion.  In the same plaza will be a much needed Office Depot and much desired Dunkin Donuts.

Hopefully they’ll come in with $4/dozen prices like they have in Texas and help drive down the competition.  $7.50 a dozen is crazy talk!


New Corner Decoration installed at Beckrich and Back Beach Road


This past week the newest addition to the intersection of Back Beach and Beckrich Roads was complete.  Part of the beautification and roadway marker efforts are to install these consistent corner decoration assemblies at major intersections on Back Beach Road.

The intersection of Beckrich and Back Beach Road is home to Home Depot, Chick Fil-A, and a million new banks and the future home of Publix, Office Depot and Dunkin Donuts, yay!

012809_beckrich_2Cadi-corner to this an exact replica had been installed since the development of the business park adjoining to the Sprint/Nextel call center.  The facade is beautiful and pleasing to look at.

I see sunshine on a cloudy day


This morning I awoke to a dark and dreary day.  With complete cloud cover the rain poored, suplimenting the watering my sprinkler was giving my lawn.  With windshield wipers blading the water off windshields cars hummed down the street with their lights on.

The last couple of days have been nothing short of fantastic here in Panama City Beach.  Weather like we’ve had the past couple of days serve as a clear reminder of why living here is just so great.  With humidity levels low, the sun has been out backed by the only thing that is better than a clear blue sky: a clear blue sky with defined, whispy white clouds carefully accenting particular parts of space.  The high yesterday was 75.  Awesome.

_mg_0631_2Last night a front moved through during the early hours of the morning and dumped an always much needed drink of water on our lush local environ.  And yes, I just created my own word.  We got about an inch this morning. But, just around lunch time, the rain clouds went away and the sun peeked out.

I was told that we would have cold rainy weather the next couple of days, but thank goodness they were wrong; at least for now.  Currently it is 76 outside, sunny and dry.

If you live here, go outside and enjoy this weather.  Many should be so lucky.

New Summer Marketing Campaign to Brand "FUN"

“Best dang beach vacation ever. Period.” – Funculator – Funtastic – These are some of the ideas that came out of the brain-storming session yesterday with regard to the summer marketing campaign.  The “brand” for this summer is FUN with an emphasis on creating the perception of value when vacationing on Panama City Beach.

Last year’s Summer White Sale, touted as wildly successful was surely a media ploy in that the actual results were not actually wet with success, but the image of the whole campaign from a PR perspective certainly was.  Featured in the likes of the New York Times and other coveted news publications, the estimated value in PR placement was in the hundreds of thousands.  However, the actual deals were nothing to call home to mom about.  As pointed out by Bryan Durta, “The deals that were to be had were nothing more than what you could find on the rack cards or local discount books.”

This year the marketing committee wanted to place an emphasis on value enhancement rather than discounts.  The idea is to create incentives that didn’t give the appearance that we were a discount location that would in turn devalue our image.  By placing an emphasis on increased value, i.e. getting more for your money, instead of saying 20% off, we look bettter.

I agree with this, but the only question, and this resounded in the room yesterday, was how do we do this and give (as Hoot Crawford so famously put) everyone a fair shake.  What is the best strategy for being sure everyone can benefit from this outside of just a few select hoteliers, attractions and restaurants?  Well, that seemed to be the presiding issue and concern.  In fact, for quite some time, there was quite a bit of discussion as to exactly how to handle this very issue until Marty McDaniel stepped in.

Marty is the new Director of the TDC and kindly reminded everyone that the details are just the details – we still need a big boom, a hook that people will grab on to and follow to Panama City Beach.  We’ve got to have a very powerful message that will capture the attention of visitors and potential visitors.  Whatever we do has to be revolutionary.  If we can come with something that is WOW, it will work.

YPartnership wanted to brand “FUN”, with maybe a Funculator on the main page of the web site that could calculate how much ‘fun’ you would have on your trip here.  The idea is to emphasize more fun, more beach, more entertainment, more summer for you, etc.

At the end of the meeting, YPartnerhship left with some ideas as to what direction we want to go and hopefully enough amunition to come back with something great, because we need it.

Bay County Set to Boom – Interview with Dr. Ed Wright

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"The nature of our area will change forever, and in a great way."

Dr. Ed Wright, former Dean of FSU-PC and current stand-in director of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance was gracious enough to start our series of Leader Profile interviews that will showcase the local talent that our area possesses.  Dr. Wright shares with us his former role as Dean, his current role as EDA Director, and what we may see in the future of Bay County.

Koertge:  You are the former dean of FSU-PC,  how long were you the dean?
:  Almost seven years.

Koertge: Did you move to Panama City for that specifically?
: I did.  I was serving as the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Colorado State University when The Florida State University position was advertised.  My wife and I had long connections with Panama City, had come here to the beach many times, plus my wife had family just outside New Orleans, so it was close.  In addition, I had done a lot of work with Gulf Coast Community College.  I was happy where I was, very successful and doing well, but when I told my wife about the position, she said four words to me – ‘get your typewriter out.’  This was the only time I applied for a job in several years and low and behold, we ended up coming.

Koertge:  So, tell us about the timing of your move.
:  It was just the right time for me, and it was time for real growth at FSU-PC.  FSU had been fairly unresponsive prior to my coming to the needs of the community and the community was getting a little restless about it.  That was communicated to me pretty quickly.  When the dean before me, Larry Bland, who was the founding dean – great guy, had been here for years –  retired, they put together a commission of city and university people to talk about the future of the campus.  This group came up with a plan or rather an inventory of needs.  Part of my role in the beginning was to respond to that inventory of needs.  Of the many things we did, we brought in daytime programs, as well as other educational programs to help broaden our teaching capability.   However, one of the most important programs we brought on was the engineering program. The initiative was to create a real full time or day time campus.

After about 6 years in the seat, we decided it was time to retire.  It was time to spend time with family and my mother, and also we timed it because the new buildings coming along. We figured with the new buildings and a great enthusiasm and buoying up of support –  what a great time for a new Dean to be here and benefit from that very important time.  And, now they are online, and what a great thing that is.  I walked through them the other day, and they are very nicely done.

Koertge: If you could name one, what would you say was the highlight of your career at FSU-PC?
Wright: One highlight of my career is crystal clear to me, and it is a story that I’ve told hundreds of times.  This story captures the mission of a regional campus, it captures Panama City, and it captures what FSU Panama City has become.  The first graduate of the Electrical Engineering program was a young woman.  The commencement was always the highlight for many of us because you get to see all these people that have worked so hard come to the conclusion of their educational career with high hope for what the future will bring them.  Many of them, for a long time were non-traditional students achieving their goals and making a difference in their life and in their future.   So, here’s a gal who was a single mom with three kids, living at home with her parents, working as much as she could – the day she walked across that stage, her life changed forever.  Now she’s working a great job, has been there for years, and has been able to offer her kids a life they never could have had before.  And, importantly, the life of the community changed forever because her role in It will be different, her contribution to It will be different.  That’s really what this is all about.

Koertge: What is the Bay County Economic Development Alliance?
Wright:  the EDA is a public/private partnership consisting of county municipalities in partnership with private companies such as St. Joe, Gulf Power and various others that contribute or have an interest in the economic development of our area.  The whole purpose of the EDA is to attract new businesses and employment opportunities and help existing industries to expand and bring new business. The board is a volunteer board led by Lisa Walters, a partner in Burke and Blue. She’s a great gal, works so hard.

Koertge:  What roles does the Economic Development Alliance play in the community?
:  The whole purpose of the EDA is to develop proposals, to target businesses that could benefit from it, provide industry related information to businesses, participate in marketing events (sometimes jointly with the Great Northwest), working with companies that may want to relocate here to perform site location studies among other things, and to structure and develop packages of incentives that are provided based on certain qualifications of the businesses.  The EDA’s job is to market the region and work with those that would like to develop as potential employers in our area.  Nextel and Oceaneering coming to Bay County are some examples of past EDA efforts.

Koertge:  What is your role as the temporary director of the EDA?
Wright:  Well, first, try to keep the place running (laugh).  I came down the week before Ted [Clem] left and received lots of briefings about the current goings-on in our program.  2008 closed out with 11 active projects in the works and I’m also involved in facilitating the building of new relationships.  I’ve worked with three inquires in the two weeks I’ve been here from companies interested in our area or in the Southeast that may develop into fruitful relationships – we are in the business of developing proposals catering to these types of solicitations.

In addition, equally important, and maybe even more important, rather, is the search for a new executive director.  We’ve got to develop a process to bring about that search and to find the right kind of person for this position.

Koertge:  People, locals and tourist alike, tend to overlook Port Panama City, what do you see on the horizon as far as economic development with regards to the port?
Wright:  Certainly, I think, Wayne Stubbs has done a terrific job as the director of the Port; he has certainly expanded their capability.  They have some land constraint issues, but that is alleviated by their having an industrial area right up 231 that is directly connected by rail that is actually being developed – that’s a really important site for future development.  I think that we’ll see some activity that will make that land more interesting to a potential business that may come here in the near future.

There is a lot of potential, and we are going to try and accelerate that process so some of the ground work is complete for that future potential business.  Then of course, there is the distance from the Yucatan.  You know, this port is closer to the Yucatan than Miami, because from the Yucatan, you have to go around Cuba to get to Miami.  Not to mention the progress with the new Panama Canal and the possible future activity that could open our area up to with the capability to accommodate much larger ships.

Koertge:  Can you speak into those things unique to our area that are setting the stage for Bay County to explode?
Wright:  The industrial park around the airport and the developable property within the fence, about 400 to 500 acres, in terms of aviation related business is a huge advantage that our area will have.  In the future, we will have tremendous opportunity that may be difficult to foresee at this time.  For example, with the airbus A380 project, if the timeline of the new airport were more further along, we would have very likely been the site instead of Mobile.  So, there are lots of things that could happen that are related to access to an airstrip or runway that this site certainly affords.

And of course, the whole commerce park outside the fence has the potential for logistics and cargo-related types of businesses, and its a great opportunity for businesses to build what they want as opposed to trying to retrofit something that is already there.  Something else that is sometimes overlooked is the growing number of defense contractors that support the Navy base, Air Force research lab, and the Civil Engineering center at Tyndall.  We’ll see that number grow.

The Navy base has become, really, a hub for a lot of different technologies.  In fact, one of the things I tried to do after I retired but was still doing some work here was to get the new airport to be a test bed for new technologies.  It is a great place and opportunity because you can bring a new system in, plug it in and see how it works.

Finally, where in the southeast can you land a large cargo aircraft with relative ease, and with ease, I don’t mean in regards to the length of the runway, but in regards to the amount of airspace.  This airport will have lots of available airspace, timewise, with regards to cargo operations.  Now, nothing is happening in this specific arena, so I don’t want to mislead anybody, but I’ve always believed that we have the opportunity when the economic base is sufficient to talk about a regional cargo kind of location.  We will have lots of space to develop the kinds of distribution centers that you would need and plenty of space in terms of airspace and times that you can have access to the airspace.

And I still believe that if Airbus will manage to become profitable in their manufacture of their huge cargo carrier, the A380, then FedEx and UPS may pick up a dozen a piece.  Where are you going to fly that huge plane into?  Currently there is only one airport in Florida that can handle a plane of that size in terms of runway length and turning radius capabilities – Miami.  As I understand, our airport should be able to handle something like this, however, they may have to do some modifications to accommodate turn radiuses and taxiway requirements, but again, we’re dealing with a clean slate.  These are some of the kinds of things that we will have to offer.

Koertge:  What sort of regional impact does the new airport potentially have?
Wright:  Oh, its huge.  And we haven’t even begun to talk about the impact it will have on The Beach, if you will, the destination of Pensacola to “the bend”.  And the way it potentially changes this tourism market in terns of access, if we get a low cost carrier.  We’ll get people coming out of larger cities that have never heard of our area before and the potential to bring international travelers.  This will change the nature of this destination forever, in a great way.

FDOT proposes new road to new Airport

I was so excited to see standing room only at the Kick off meeting to introduce the proposed new road to our longed for Airport.   Hugh Williams exclaimed that a bigger room would be needed for the next meeting because  of the over the top public responce which they welcomed.  The meeting appeared to be a great success and although there was not a question and answer time the audience was encouraged to meet one on one with the project leaders stationed around the room.

So how does it impact us?  The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing a new 4 lane roadway, approximately 24 miles in length.  Exactly where the road will be is still in the planning stages but the suggested  route for section 1 is from US 98 in Walton County east of Peach Creek to state road 79 in Bay County around county road 388.  For section 2 the plans are for it to run along 388 from HWY 79 to HWY 77.   Some of the considerations for the road will include controlled and limited access alternatives.

H.W. Lochner, Inc. and PBS & J have teamed together to conduct studies for the West Bay Parkway and its impact on the community and its citizens.  Rosemary Woods -Deputy project manager urged the audience to e-mail or call them at their numbers provided below. She stated that a vital part of their study would be getting information from the public.

In essence the goal is to have as little an impact on the enviornment and its citizens with the most advantages for our future development.  Some of the positives are:  A new route to our new Airport, to provide a better quality direct route to the eastern side of  Bay County, and to establish an alternative hurricane evacuation Route.  One of the problems with Bay County has always been how do you get here.  The new Airport is the first step in solving that problem and a new road to the Airport is another facet of making Bay County an easy access vacation spot.

This was the first of many meetings.  I had an opportunity to meet some of the Project Leaders and they were eager to hear our ideas and welcomed feedback and questions.  I hope you will join me and learn about this project and be a part of the great change for our community that we love.

The official web site is

Contact information:

Hugh Williams,PE
Project Manager

Rosemary Woods
Deputy Project Manager

J. Brandon Bruner
Project Development Engineer

Mardi Gras Parade on Panama City Beach

012609_mardigrasThe Krewe of Dominique Youx is Bay County’s original organization of over 185 members who have celebrated the festive Mardi Gras season here in Bay County for over 22 years.

According to custom, Shrove Tuesday (“Fat Tuesday” to the English-speaking settlers, “Mardi Gras” to the French) is the last day to indulge, or overindulge, before Lent and its 40 days of fasting.  The celebrations that take place before Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Mobile, and Galveston set off a carnival season that is notorious.

The Mardi Gras tradition came to Panama City in 1986 when a group of local residents headed by Errol Legasse and the late Jerry Castardo decided that we should not miss out on the excitement of Mardi Gras and formed the Krewe of Dominique Youx.

Dominique Youx is the nickname used by the eldest member of the famous Lafitte family of buccaneers who sailed the southern seas in the early 1800’s plundering vessels of those deemed to be their enemies.  Dominique Youx was actually Fredric Alexander Lafitte, brother of Jean and Pierre Lafitte.  He was the first of the Brothers to become a buccaneer.  He was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte as a privateer and served for France during the war with Spain. When the Lafitte’s moved to New Orleans, the charismatic Jean Lafitte organized hundreds of rogues into a band of pirates who became the scourge of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Local rumor has it that some of their loot is still hidden in the estuary of St.Andrew Bay.

The present day Krewe of Dominique Youx, like other famous Mardi Gras Krewes, celebrates the season in a carnival atmosphere. For the first time, the krewe will parade on Panama City Beach. Pirates dressed in colorful costumes will be throwing beads to revelers along the parade route beginning at Hill Road, proceeding down Front Beach Road, and into Pier Park.  This year, King Rob Fernandez (Dominique Youx XXII) and his Queen, Joyce Muller, will spearhead the Krewe as beads, doubloons, and other throws are tossed to the huge crowds lining the parade route.  This parade is free to the public and suitable for the whole family.

In Panama City Beach, the season begins in mid-November with a black-tie evening celebration.  The Krewe presents a local, non-member dignitary with the “Baratarian Cup”, a Mardi Gras honor unique to Panama City.  This year’s recipient is Robert “Bob” Myers.  Bob was an Air Force officer who settled down in Bay county after retiring and over the years became one of Bay County’s most prolific charity volunteers.  Bob will lead this year’s parade as Grand Marshall.

The Krewe also holds a formal, costumed Mardi Gras Ball for the coronation of the new King, Queen and court members for the following year.

The Krewe of Dominique Youx is self-financing, paying for its own equipment, floats, costumes, as well as the beads and doubloons thrown to the watching parade crowds.

The Panama City Krewe of Dominique Youx is proud to use the name of an historic buccaneer to promote the carnival spirit of Mardi Gras for the enjoyment of the people of Bay County.

Education Forum to be held in Panama City

An Education Forum will be held Saturday, January 31 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm in the St. Andrews Episcopal Church Community Room at 1608 Baker Court in Panama City.   The event is FREE.

The topics will include finding the right school for your child; financial planning for education and the link between diet, exercise and learning. Childcare will be provided.

The event is sponsored by the Panama City Renaissance School, the Chautauqua Learn and Serve Charter School, the Bay County Health Department, Merrill Lynch, Northwest Florida Surgery Center, Head and Neck Associates of Bay County and David Kozan of CDM.

For more information about the event, call 850-215-8712 or visit the event website at