Panama City Beach – Top Ten News Stories of 2008
In the annual Panama City News Herald Poll The good, the bad and the ugly stood out among readers and newsroom staff in 2008…Most of the stories are based on local events and do not deal with the Beach tourist trade so I will only list a couple of the stories.
Top 10 # 1 – County residents feel sting of faltering economy
Bay County’s economy took a pounding in 2008, as high unemployment, a record number of foreclosure filings and a sluggish housing market took its toll on area residents and businesses.
The county’s unemployment rate went from 4.9 percent in January to 7.4 percent in November, the highest level recorded since January 2002. Gulf Coast Workforce Board Executive Director Kim Bodine said the area’s annual job growth rate measured a negative 3.4 percent in November, an overall loss of 2,600 jobs. Bodine said the county’s unemployment rate could rise in early 2009, as the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation included more area job layoffs in its monthly totals. “I think next month will be up a half-percent at least,” Bodine said Dec. 20, after AWI released its November unemployment numbers.
Smurfit-Stone Container Co. announced 425 temporary layoffs in November at its paper mill. Mike Mullin, Smurfit-Stone’s director of media relations and public affairs, said the company would start bringing back all of its employees in January 2009, as it conducts an annual maintenance outage at the beginning of the year.
Other notable area employers that announced layoffs and/or production stoppages in 2008 included Oceaneering Multiflex, Berg Steel Pipe, Arizona Chemical, Century Boat Company, Sallie Mae and Stock Building Supply. National retailers Circuit City and Linens N’Things closed their doors with extended liquidation sales at their Panama City locations.
Area foreclosure filings were also on the rise in 2008. Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure tracking company RealtyTrac had recorded 2,280 Bay County foreclosure filings through November. Filings in RealtyTrac’s total included default notices, auction sale notices, and bank repossessions, with some properties with multiple mortgages receiving more than one notice. By comparison, the company recorded 960 Bay County foreclosure filings in its end-of-year 2007 market report, released in January. August was Bay County’s highest month for foreclosure filings, according to RealtyTrac, with 328 filings. Like most other Florida metropolitan areas, Panama City recorded year-over-year decreases in existing home and condominium sales, as well as median sales prices, for most of 2008. The area did see a slight increase in November existing home sales. Bay County Association of Realtors President Jan Cox said in December she thought the area’s housing market would start to stabilize in 2009 after a challenging 2008. The county’s housing market must still work through a two-year existing inventory of residential homes and create a reason for prices to increase, Cox acknowledged. Cox said the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport could contribute to a housing market rebound that comes sooner than recoveries in other parts of Florida. “I see the Panhandle as having the absolute first shot at recovery and price appreciation,” Cox said before Wednesday’s meeting.
One 2008 economic bright spot was the end-of-year decline in gas prices. After spiking above $4 a gallon in the wake of Hurricane Ike’s Texas landfall, gas prices dropped steadily over the rest of the year. By late December, Bay County gas prices had dropped as low as $1.63 a gallon at some area stations. The dip below $2 a gallon represented the first time area gas prices had fallen below that benchmark since February 2006.
Top Ten #3: Pier Park, new airport good news amid gloom
PANAMA CITY BEACH — The opening of Pier Park in Panama City Beach and continued progress on construction of the new airport near West Bay was some good economic news during this year’s gloomy economy.
Dozens of restaurants and large retailers signed on to open stores at Panama City Beach’s 93-acre Pier Park development, expected to reach 152 outlets when completed and 1.1 million square feet of retail space.
Construction of the Panama City-Bay County International airport picked up steam with the awarding of a bid for the new terminal and the decision to increase the length of the runway to 10,000 feet. In addition, a legal hurdle for the airport was cleared this year when a lawsuit was dismissed that sought to reverse a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the airport’s construction. The lawsuit, filed by several environmental groups, claimed that building the $318 million airport would destroy valuable wetlands and that the Corps abused its discretion in issuing the permit. For now, officials say construction at the airport site is about four months ahead of schedule and the opening date is still planned for May 2010.