North West Florida


Northwest Florida

The northwest region of Florida borders the Gulf of Mexico and runs from Pensacola to Tallahassee. It includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Jackson, Washington, Bay, Calhoun, Liberty, Gulf, Franklin, Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, and Wakulla Counties. The target industries for the area are advanced manufacturing, aviation, aerospace, defense, health sciences, renewable energy, and transportation. The area has a population of 1.4 million and workforce greater than 700,000 people. The northwest region of Florida is attractive for all types of economic development projects, but particularly those that require access to deep water or barge facilities.

Northwest Florida Links:

North West Florida Metropolitan Statistical Areas

A Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) contains a core urban area wiht a population of 50,000 or more. Each metro area consists of one or more counties and includes the counties containing the core urban area, as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core. There are 4 MSAs in the Northwest region:

Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent MSA

The core urban area in this MSA is Pensacola (51,923 in 2010). It includes Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. There are two incorporated municipalities in Escambia County and 3 cities in Santa Rosa. Pensacola is surrounded by much smaller communities. The region has over 450,000 inhabitants.

Most employment is in the service sectors of education, healthcare and government. Indeed, governments rank as the top three employers by number of employees and healthcare providers make up four of the top ten.

This MSA is home to Naval Air Station Pensacola, recognized as the premier naval installation in the Department of the Navy, and NAS Whiting Field, one of two primary pilot training bases. The Department of Defense contributes an estimated $7.8 billion to the regional economy while directly employing over 25,000. The defense industry accounts for around 80,000 jobs.

Pensacola State College has campuses throughout the region, including Warrington near NAS Pensacola, Century at the northern end of Escambia County, and two in Pensacola including a downtown campus. PSC also has campuses in Santa Rosa County, including a Milton campus and the South Santa Rosa Center in Gulf Breeze.


The only city in Escambia County is also the county seat, Pensacola. The area was long inhabited by Native Americans, and the Spanish established a settlement in 1559, though it did not last. The failed settlement kept the Spanish away from the area until 1698, when the city of "Panzacola" was established. When the British took control in 1763, they split Florida into east and west and named Pensacola the capital of West Florida. Spain re-took West Florida in the early 1780s.

Pensacola was terrorized by American General Andrew Jackson throughout the 1810s. Settlers in Alabama and Mississippi wanted access to the Gulf of Mexico, so Jackson annexed territory from West Florida, which was added to those states. His occupation of Pensacola in 1819 spurred Spain to sell all of Florida to the United States in 1821.

Jackson used Pensacola as his capital while he was territorial governor; Tallahassee soon supplanted it for its more central location. Nonetheless, Pensacola remained an important port and tourist destination.

The healthcare industry is a strong driver of Pensacola's economy. Facilities includes Baptist Hospital, the first hospital to operate emergency helicopters in the state; Sacred Heart, the first Catholic hospital in Florida and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and West Florida Hospital, located just north of the city in Ferry Pass.

With 343 sunny days every year and a average annual temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, Pensacola attracts many tourists looking for sun and fun. Some visit for the white sandy beaches and clear blue water, others for the historic buildings and arts & culture. The nearby state and national parks provide additional recreation opportunities. The tourism industry contributes over half-a-million dollars to the local economy.

The Pensacola area is home to several military bases with a focus on air and sea. Located southwest of the city proper, the land that Naval Air Station Pensacola occupies has a long history as a military base, dating back to the 1698 Spanish settlement. Established as a naval air station in 1914, the base was the only one of its kind when the United States entered World War I. NAS Pensacola is still the principal initial training facility for naval aviators serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. It is also the home base for the Blue Angels.

The Port of Pensacola features an Enterprise Zone, which includes state and local tax incentives, and a Foreign Trade Zone, which allows for the deferral of or exemption from the customs process, including duties. The 50-acre facility features eight deepwater-draft docking berths. Warehouses and a CSX rail link are also features of the port.

Pensacola International Airport is the westernmost airport that handles commercial jet traffic in the state. It airport is owned and operated by the city. The airport handles around 770,000 passengers. It claims an economic impact over $550 billion and supports almost 6,000 jobs. The airport is within the same Foreign Trade Zone as the port.

A 2012 Texas A&M study of 498 urban areas in the U.S. found that Pensacola had the shortest average highway commute time.

Companies headquartered in Pensacola include boatmaker Caribiana Sea Skiffs and All Pro Sound, which installs permanent sound and lighting systems across the country.

The University of West Florida is located in Ferry Pass and has an enrollment of over 12,000 students. The university benefits from its location in that many military personnel stationed in the area attend part-time. Pensacola State College, formerly Pensacola Junior College, offers four-year degrees in nursing and applied sciences. Troy University maintains a campus just west of the city.


Crestview-Fort Walton-Destin MSA

The core urban areas are Crestview, Fort Walton and Destin, which had a combined total population of 52,790 in 2010 and includes Okaloosa and Walton Counties. There are nine incorporated municipalities in Okaloosa and three in Walton. This is the third-fastest growing MSA in the nation.

This MSA is home to Eglin Air force base geographically the US Air Forces largest base. Hurlburt Field Airforce Installation is also part of this complex. Duke Field also known as Eglin AFB Auxiliary Field #3, is a military airport located three miles (5 km) south of the central business district of Crestview.

The defense industry has a significant presence in Okaloosa. Seven of the ten largest contractors in Florida are in the county. The industry contributes $6.6 billion to the local economy and employs 21,000 people, sustaining 350 companies.

Forbes ranked the area as the 94th best small place for business and careers, including a ranking of number 42 in the nation for education.

Northwest Florida Regional Airport is located at Eglin AFB, so it only allows commercial flights; no private airplanes are permitted. The airport shares runways with the military. Major carriers and their regional affiliates service the airport and its approximately 375,000 annual passengers. It is situated between Fort Walton Beach and Valparaiso. The Florida Department of Transportation estimates the airport's economic impact at over $466 million and credit it with being responsible for over 5,000 jobs.

Northwest Florida State College operates five campuses in Okaloosa County and two in Walton. Its main campus is in Niceville. The school offers five bachelor's degree programs, including nursing and education. It specializes in technical associate's degrees.



The city of Crestview is home to over 21,000 and is the seat of Okaloosa County. Its name comes from its location on the summit of a woodland range overlooking two rivers. The "Hub City" is at the confluence of Interstate 10 with U.S. Highway 90 and State Road 85, along with the CSX Railroad, and the Yellow and Shoal Rivers.

Three miles outside of downtown lies the Bob Sikes Airport, a general aviation facility. The airport can handle large military transport planes and serves the area's general aviation needs. The Air Force and Navy use the facility for flight training. It has an 8,000-foot runway and a 64,000-sq. ft. hangar. The airport contributes more than $13 million to the local economy and employs more than 125 people.

The strongest driver of the economy is the healthcare sector, with tourism also an important contributor. North Florida Medical Centers operates twelve health centers in the region. The North Okaloosa Medical Center is also located within city limits.

Crestview is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, with a growth rate over 40% since 1990. Northwest Florida State College has a campus in the city named the Robert LF Sikes Center.


Fort Walton Beach

In 1861, a unit of Confederate volunteers known as the Walton Guard made camp in what is today downtown Fort Walton Beach. Named for the county the area was then a part of, Camp Walton appeared on maps as a settlement in the 1910s. The name was changed to Fort Walton in 1932 and incorporated in 1941. The name was finally changed to its current form when the city annexed Tower Beach in 1953. The city has had a population around 20,000 since 1970.

The economy of the city is strong in administrative support and the services, including tourism. Fort Walton Beach caters to the family audience with its white sand beaches, museums, aquariums, and parks. Visitors can also take advantage of the multiple golf courses, including both public and championship-level ones, and the city's proximity to the gulf for fishing, surfing, and other maritime recreation.

The single largest employer is Eglin Air Force Base, which is northeast of the city, followed by Hurlburt Field, located immediately to the west. Both are large U.S. Air Force bases. Hurlburt is home to the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Northwest Florida State College has a campus in the city and one on each of the two bases in the area. Troy University also has a campus in the city and one on each Air Force base to serve students in the military.



Once a small fishing village, Destin's location on Florida's Gulf Coast has made it a tourist destination. Located at the western end of a peninsula that was once a barrier island, the city borders Choctawhatchee Bay on the north with the gulf to the south and west, where East Pass connects the gulf and bay. The city of over 12,000 incorporated in 1984. In 2011, Good Morning America honored Destin by naming it one of the ten most beautiful places to live and Forbes called it one of the ten most recession-proof cities.

The city's economy is strongest in administrative support and services, especially tourism. The city sees about 3.6 million visitors each year. Nicknamed the ?world's luckiest fishing village? for the abundance of edible sea life nearby, Destin is a premier destination for fishing. The city also boasts of golf courses, white sand beaches, and plentiful dining and shopping.

Coleman Kelly Field at the Destin Airport serves the community's general aviation needs.


Panama City MSA

The core urban areas are Panama City, Lynn Haven and Panama City Beach, with a total population of 66,995 in 2010 and includes Bay and Gulf counties. There are 6 cities in Bay and 1 in Gulf. The region has a total population of over 180,000.

This MSA is home to Tyndall Air force base headquarters to the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, which has the sole responsibility for ensuring the air sovereignty and air defense for the continental United States, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The Panama City region is a popular tourist destination. Skin Diver Magazine called the area the "Wreck Diving Capital of the Southeast".

Panama City

With a population over 36,000, Panama City is the most populous city in the region. Originally called Harrison, the name of the Bay County seat was changed to take advantage of media attention surrounding the construction of the Panama Canal. Settlement began in the 1820s, and the city quickly earned a reputation as a tourist destination. During the American Civil War, the city was an important source of salt for Confederate troops, which led to Union troops destroying it in 1863. By the end of the nineteenth century, the city was again doing well. The main industries were salt harvesting, boat manufacturing, and fishing.

The city is located at the confluence of three bays (North, Saint Andrew, and East), with barrier islands separating them from the Gulf of Mexico.

Healthcare is a strong driver of the city's economy, as are administrative support and tourism. Bay Medical Center is recognized as a high-quality hospital by U.S. News and World Report. Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center is also located in the city.

Twelve miles east of the city lies Tyndall Air Force Base, home to around 3,000 people. The base was established at the start of World War II and was the site of actor Clark Gable's training. Today, Tyndall is an active base, home to the 325th Fighter Wing with responsibility for training all F-22 pilots. The base is the largest employer in Bay County.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is northwest of the city. Opened in 2010, it was the first major airport constructed in the U.S. since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The airport is served by major air carriers and has a facility for general aviation.

Gulf Coast State College is located on the west end of the city. With an enrollment over 6,000, the college offers associate's and bachelor's degrees. Florida State University maintains a campus just to the north of GCSC with an enrollment around 1,500. Additionally, Troy University operates campuses in Panama City and on Tyndall AFB.


Panama City Beach

A separate municipality from Panama City, Panama City Beach is located across the bay on the barrier island. Founded in 1936, the city's population jumped from 67 in 1970 to 2,148 in 1980. In 2010, the census tallied over 12,000 residents in the rapidly-growing city.

The economy is driven by the services, including tourism. The city's 27 miles of white sand beaches attract numerous tourists each year, including Spring Breakers from the Southeast and across the country. The community sees over 100,000 visitors during this season. There are many artificial reefs off the coast that make the waters popular with fishermen and divers.


Tallahassee MSA

The core urban area is Tallahasse, which has a population of 181,376 in 2010 and includes Gadsden, Wakulla, Leon and Jefferson Counties. The area has over 350,000 inhabitants and is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan regions in the country. There are six incorporated municipalities in Gadsden, two in Wakulla, one in Leon and one in Jefferson. This MSA is home to the State Capitol, Florida State University and Florida A&M University. It is a regional center for scientific research. Life and employment is dominated by the universities and the state government, with agriculture having a more prominent role in the outlying areas.

Gadsden is only county in the state with a majority African-American population. Though historically an important tobacco producer, the county is famous for the amount of shares its residents own in Coca-Cola. Banker Pat Munroe of Quincy encouraged residents to invest in the company when it went public in 1919. The city has a number of "Coke millionaires".

Jefferson County is mostly agricultural, producing such crops as watermelons, pecans, and pears. Indeed, the annual Watermelon Festival speaks to the importance of the crop to the region. Cattle ranching is also a significant portion of the industry in Jefferson, larger than in the other three counties.


The capital of the state and seat of Leon County, Tallahassee was founded in 1824 to be the state capital because it was roughly halfway between the two centers of population at the time, Pensacola and St. Augustine, which were on opposite sides of the panhandle. In the 1860s, Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi River not to fall to the Union during the American Civil War. A new capitol building was opened in 1977 to better serve the needs of the rapidly growing state.

Much of the economy is driven by the state government and the presence of two major universities. When the legislature is in session from March to May, the city bustles with activity and the population swells with legislators, lobbyists, and their respective staffs. Retail and healthcare are also important economic drivers.

The city is home to both Florida State University and Florida A&M. FSU is the most historic institution of higher learning in the state, able to trace its history to the West Florida Seminary, which opened in 1856. In 1905, the state consolidated the university system, resulting in the university being reorganized at the Florida Female College. With the large number of soldiers returning home after World War II taking advantage of the GI Bill's provision for a college education, the state recognized the need to expand. Florida chose to again make the school co-educational in 1947, calling it the Florida State University.

FSU attracts over $200 million in research funding. The school hosts the National High Magnetic Lab, the largest and most powerful magnet laboratory in the world, which attracts grants from the National Science Foundation as well as the private sector. The university is comprised of sixteen colleges, including a law school and a medical college.

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University is the largest historically-black university in the nation by enrollment. Founded in 1887, FAMU students have a history of resisting the segregation and discrimination that characterized the post-Civil War South. The school offers sixty-two bachelor's degrees and has eleven Ph.D programs to go along with its law school and college of pharmacy. FAMU attracts over $30 million in research funding, with agriculture and health sciences being the two largest grant categories for them

Located in the southwestern portion of the city, Tallahassee Regional Airport is primarily served by regional carriers, with regular flights to cities such as Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth. In addition, the airport serves general aviation and air taxis. About 400,000 passengers use TLH for commercial travel annually. The airport generates an estimated economic impact over $350 million each year and supports around 4,000 jobs.

In addition to the two major public universities, Tallahassee Community College serves the metropolitan area.


Sue Goldthorp

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My name is Sue Goldthorp. I am a real estate broker and co-founder of Visulate. Drop me a line if you would like me to help you buy or sell a property in North West Florida.

North West Florida Cities

There are 88 cities in North West Florida. These are listed below. Click on a link for details.

Alford, Altha, Apalachicola, Argyle, Bagdad, Baker, Bascom, Blountstown, Bonifay, Bristol, Campbellton, Cantonment, Carrabelle, Caryville, Century, Chattahoochee, Chipley, Clarksville, Cottondale, Crawfordville, Crestview, Cypress, Defuniak Springs, Destin, Eastpoint, Ebro, Eglin Afb, Fort Walton Beach, Fountain, Freeport, Gonzalez, Graceville, Grand Ridge, Greensboro, Greenwood, Gretna, Gulf Breeze, Havana, Holt, Hosford, Hurlburt Field, Jay, Lamont, Lanark Village, Laurel Hill, Lloyd, Lynn Haven, Malone, Marianna, Mary Esther, Mc David, Mexico Beach, Midway, Milligan, Milton, Miramar Beach, Molino, Monticello, Mossy Head, Navarre, Niceville, Noma, Panacea, Panama City, Panama City Beach, Paxton, Pensacola, Ponce De Leon, Port Saint Joe, Quincy, Rosemary Beach, Saint Marks, Santa Rosa Beach, Shalimar, Sneads, Sopchoppy, Sumatra, Tallahassee, Telogia, Valparaiso, Vernon, Wacissa, Wausau, Westville, Wewahitchka, Wewahitchka, Woodville, Youngstown,

Northwest Florida Quick Facts

County Population
Economic Activity
2007 (Millions)
Population Growth
2010 to 2012
Median Household
Income 2011
Median Home Value
2007 to 2011
Escambia County 302,715 $8,505 1.7% $43,707 136,551 $145,000
Santa Rosa County 158,512 $1,467 4.7% $55,913 65,728 $173,400
Okaloosa County 190,083 $4,417 5.1% $54,140 92,394 $196,800
Walton County 57,582 $1,223 4.6% $46,926 45,682 $174,000
Holmes County 19,804 $81 -0.6% $33,510 8,649 $86,800
Jackson County 48,968 $836 -1.6% $39,869 21,011 $97,200
Washington County 24,892 $195 0.0% $37,036 10,864 $96,600
Bay County 171,903 $4,852 1.8% $48,225 99,828 $168,400
Calhoun County 14,723 $74 0.7% $31,142 6,069 $80,200
Liberty County 8,276 $28 -1.1% $40,893 3,362 $80,600
Gulf County 15,718 $95 -0.9% $41,291 9,148 $150,600
Franklin County 11,686 $130 1.2% $37,017 8,665 $170,100
Gadsden County 46,528 $1,106 -2.6% $33,453 19,561 $109,000
Leon County 283,769 $5,470 3.0% $45,827 124,701 $195,300
Jefferson County 14,256 $139 -3.4% $42,096 6,727 $125,000
Wakulla County 30,818 $195 0.1% $54,151 12,721 $136,900
Total 1,400,233 $28,814 0.8% $42,825 671,661 $136,619