MILTON — Santa Rosa County's economy has been rapidly growing in the past few years. The county economic development director, Shannon Ogletree, spoke at the Jan. 16 Economic Development Growth and Education luncheon to give an update on the county's progress.

Ogletree said the county is in the top five percent of fastest growing counties in the United States.

"We are growing by leaps and bounds," he said.

Between 2012 and 2017 the growth rate in the county has increased 9.4 percent, he said.

"Currently there are 175,832 people living in the county," Ogletree said. "Our labor force rate is 80,354."

The county sits on what Ogletree said was, "one of the most active traffic zones in the world," with six area aviation-focused military installations including Naval Air Station Whiting Field. According to his office's research, there are 34,000 military retirees living the in the county with 2,400 new retirees added every year. He said military retirees choosing to live here is a helpful factor when convincing new business to set up in the county.

"The military impact is something that we continue to push," he said. "They have the work ethic that companies are looking for."

The school district is also attractive to new business, Ogletree said, due to its 64 career academies, 13 career clusters and 20 post-secondary career training programs.

"We have been ranked an 'A' district since 1999," he said. "Pensacola State College, University of West Florida, and Locklin Technical College all work closely with the businesses and community to ensure skilled graduates."

The county's three industrial parks, Ogletree said, each went through screening to ensure they were ready for development.  Northwest Florida Industrial Park at I-10 has 88 acres of land for industrial use. Santa Rosa Industrial Park has 112 acres, and Blackwater Industrial Park has 186 acres. For the NWFL Industiral Park, Ogletree said, the county is considering a spec building — a move-in-ready structure the county can offer business considering this region.

Ogletree said that projects in the county's pipeline included the construction of a 269-acre Aviation Park at Whiting Field through the Triumph Gulf Coast award money from the BP oil spill. Once completed, Ogletree said the county was planning to begin several operations at the park including: 

a Pensaocla State College CDL Driving School,
Project Airwolf, an aviation company offering 50 jobs,
Project Divinci, an aviation company offering 100 jobs, 
Project Mastermind, an aviation company offering 70 jobs, and
Project Runner, a food distribution company offering 400 jobs.

Ogletree said the Park should be completed in February of 2020.