MILTON — The Santa Rosa County Economic Development and Tourist Development offices work to bring business into the county through companies that provide jobs and generate tax dollars and tourists who spend money at local businesses and generate bed tax dollars.
However, one challenge both departments face is Santa Rosa County’s brand.
In September of 2016, Santa Rosa County selected Paradise Advertising Agency to manage the county’s marketing. Monday, Paradise representatives discussed findings of their research using focus groups.
The two focus groups consisted of eight women in Atlanta and Birmingham who are the travel decision makers in their households and frequently vacation at Florida beaches, according to Rudy Webb, Paradise vice president of account services.
Tom Merrick, Paradise chief creative officer, said they started with the question, “Why not visit Santa Rosa County?”
“The answer to that is people do not plan vacations to counties,” Merrick said.
He also said there is potential confusion with Santa Rosa Beach in Walton County.
“We don’t want to send people to another county to take all your tax dollars,” Merrick said.
A Google search of just Santa Rosa first yields a page of five links about Santa Rosa, California and one link about Santa Rosa County.
Paradise also began its work with the existing brands of Historic Milton and Navarre Beach, Florida’s Playground.
When focus groups considered Historic Milton, Merrick said one focus group member asked what Milton was and another who was familiar with Milton said it’s just a suburb of Navarre Beach.
Shannon Ogletree, Santa Rosa County Economic Development director, said when communicating with company employees who seek new locations to start or expand business, they are often unfamiliar with Santa Rosa County, though they may know Pensacola.
Persistence is one of Ogletree’s methods of combating this problem.
“We’re out there beating the drum,” he said.
Another, he’s said, is maintaining positive relationships with business contacts.
The Economic Development Office’s tactics may be working. Ogletree also presented Monday with an Economic Development update for the county.
Highlights included businesses, like the existing manufacturing facilities Cape Horn and Gulf Cable, and the existing electricity contractor Power Secure adding 10 to 20 employees.
Future projects include Project Blue Marlin, which would employ 400 new employees and represent an $80 million capital investment; Project Runner, a distribution business, which will need 300 new employees and pay 115 percent the average annual wage; and Project Tattershall, an aviation manufacturing business that would employ 53 people.
Meanwhile, Paradise is leading with Navarre but not leaving Milton and the rest of the county behind.
Merrick said the bed tax numbers, taxes the county imposes on hotel stays, show 85 percent come from Navarre and Gulf Breeze.
However, after the meeting, Merrick said, “When people say they want to go to the beach, it’s not just about white sand. It’s an idealized getaway. It’s relaxing.”
People can relax in different ways, he said, from sitting on the beach, to zip lining, to kayaking.
Monday, the Board of County Commissioners showed support for Paradise to continue its marketing development.