Whether it's along the Beaches of South Walton or North of Choctawhatchee Bay, Walton County is becoming an epicenter for economic development.

"The real estate is here," said Steve Jaeger, executive director of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance. "Our goal is to spread the wealth throughout the entire county."

There are no shortage of visible signs pointing to Walton County's growth either, as both residential and commercial projects can be seen dotting the landscape of CR 30A and filling the drawers of county planners.

On the horizon: A rundown of projects that may go vertical


Cash is king

A total of 605 single family home permits were issued between the months of March and August, according to numbers from the county. There are also quite a few larger commercial projects on the books as well, ranging from a Donut Hole restaurant and a brewery to a retail center and apartment complexes.

Local Realtor John Paul Somers says Walton County’s real estate recovery has been considerably robust for most prime resort residential and commercial projects that cater to viable business models.

"Finally, since the peak in 2005, development concepts are being introduced and should begin releasing new opportunities to our marketplace," he told The Sun in an email. "Walton County has encountered significant absorption of existing, improved property, leading to scarcity of listing inventory, thus fueling appreciation in valuations due to the basic principles of supply versus demand."

For Somers, broker at Somers & Company, the next step in the recovery process involves new development, both residential and commercial, especially as more lending capital becomes available from banks and private equity.

Although cash is still king when it comes to purchasing property, "attractive mortgage rates are making the borrowers more apt to invest in our market with the anticipation of further upside in property values," Somers wrote. "I suspect 2014 will usher in further optimism."

 An economic energy

As the head of the Walton County Tourist Development Council, Jim Bagby knows what makes Walton County special, and he says there is no shortage of reasons why people are flocking to the beach.

According to Bagby, a combination of a recovering economy and "desirable" beaches play a key role.

"Walton County is seen as one of the most desirable places along the Panhandle," he said. "There is an energy in the south end of the county that people really enjoy."

With an office based in Santa Rosa Beach, District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows spends a lot of time traversing the communities along 30A, where she says construction is booming.

"We kind of have a buying and building frenzy going on down here," she said. "Vacant lots are selling, homes are selling, and I'm getting letters in the mail from Realtors saying they need inventory."

Meadows said the growth can be seen based purely by the number of construction vehicles on area roadways, as well as by the number of families that are now calling Walton County home.

"It's becoming a 12 month out of the year kind of place," she said. "Which presents its own problems, but that's why I'm here to help figure those things out."

 A future aerospace hotspot?

With development buzzing along the Beaches of South Walton, Jaeger told The Sun it is extremely important for Walton County to put an emphasis on attracting what he called family wage jobs, which are essentially jobs that are outside of the retail and tourism spectrum, such as manufacturing.

"My goal is to try and diversify our economy," he said.

Especially in the northern portion, Jaeger sees Walton County as a place where aviation and aerospace related companies could ideally locate, given its proximity to both Interstate 10 and the CSX Railroad.

With airline manufacturer Airbus opening up shop in Mobile in 2015, Jaeger said the company will bring along a bevy of related manufacturers along with them.

"They have a bunch of companies from around the world that supply parts to them," he said. "Those suppliers want to come to the U.S., and they are going to cluster along the I-10 corridor within probably a 350-mile radius."

Part of attracting companies in these specific fields is having a trained workforce to fill the available jobs. Jaeger says this is one area where Walton County has a tremendous opportunity, but action must be taken quickly.

"We have a limited time opportunity to implement aviation-related education," he said. "We need the ability to train our young people quickly and competently on the type of work they will be doing."

"We must create opportunity for those who are not college bound," he added.

Jaeger said other opportunities in Walton County are based on future improvements to U.S. Hwy. 331 corridor, which will be expanded to four lanes.

Work is currently under way on the segment from the north side of the bridge to State Road 20. Plans and $47.6 million in funding are also in place to expand U.S. 331 from SR20 to I-10 just south of DeFuniak Springs.

Jaeger said the "modern highway" would be a huge advantage for Walton County as a whole. The economic development alliance is currently in discussions with about five companies that could potentially call the county's commerce park in Mossy Head home, joining Love's truck stop, Jaeger said.

With untapped potential abounding, Jaeger said representatives from Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties have been diligently working to attract potential aerospace and aviation related companies to the area.

"We are putting together an aerospace forum," he said. "We want local leaders to go to Hamburg, Airbus's headquarters in Germany, to learn more about the industry."