Okaloosa and Walton counties have been recognized as one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released a list of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas. The Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin MSA, which takes in all of Okaloosa and Walton counties, ranked third.
Larry Sassano, interim president of Florida’s Great Northwest, said the ranking will be a great way to market the area as one that is vibrant and growing.
“That’s impressive,” Sassano said. “If you show that you have the third fastest-growing MSA in the country, that’s going to say something about the potential for growth for companies. Companies want to grow from a larger pool of potential employees.
“I think this is a good marketing tool for the region,” Sassano added. “Even though it’s really isolating it to two counties, it’s two counties in Northwest Florida. Anytime you can promote even one county, the other counties will have a positive impact as well.”
The Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin MSA had a population of 239,021 in July 2011. That grew to 247,665 by July 2012 for an increase of 3.6 percent. Only the Midland, Texas, and Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky., MSAs had higher growth rates, at 4.6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.
Sassano said one of the biggest factors companies consider when they are deciding where to operate or expand is the availability of a strong workforce. A growing population helps with that.
“The larger the population, the more opportunities employers have to select qualified employees,” Sassano said.
Local economist David Goetsch said part of the growth in Okaloosa and Walton counties during that time frame was because of the addition of a new battalion to the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the continuing migration of retirees.
“Nobody’s growing very much because of the economy,” Goetsch said. “It’s good news for us, but we’re kind of one of the fastest growing in a very slow-growing economy.
“We’re leading a very slow pack,” he added.
Goetsch said he doesn’t expect the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin MSA to remain one of the fastest-growing areas for much longer.
“Even without sequestration, I wouldn’t expect it because you get the benefit of the 7th Special Forces once, and we’ve got that now,” Goetsch said. “The small amount that we typical grow out of retirements will continue, but that is small, and with sequestration that will probably even be slower.
“With sequestration we will probably lose some also. Not military, not retirees, but we’ll probably lose some defense personnel.”