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Out-of-state visitors drive economic development in Taylor County

New housing also going up to accommodate growth
Posted at 6:01 PM, Mar 23, 2023

TAYLOR COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — When it comes to economic development in Taylor County, many locals will tell you, “everything in moderation.” That seems to be the motto in this part of the Big Bend.

Jody Griffis is an owner and partner at Steinhatchee Marina at Deadman’s Bay. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Griffis said showing us the massive, new facility overlooking the water.

When asked if Steinhatchee natives are on board with the project, Griffis said, “some yes, some no. I totally understand their thought process. A lot of people born and raised here don’t want to see the change.”

That change is attracting new business to this small, coastal community from far and wide. New visitors are coming in from, “South Georgia,” Griffis added. “We’re seeing a lot more from South Florida.”

Part of that economic activity was driven by thedamage done by Hurricane Ian. “You’ve had all the damage down at Fort Myers,” Griffis explained. “I think we’ll see some residual from those guys as well.”

That new exposure is driving more people to shops like Shannon Wirick’s. Earlier this year, he set up a golf cart rental shop.

The machines are growing in popularity here. He, too, has seen people visiting from Florida’s borders. “We’ve had people from Canada, a few people from Puerto Rico,” Wirick said.

To get to Steinhatchee, many of those visitors have to pass through Perry which sits right in the heart of Taylor County. It’s a community Matt Eckel calls home. He’s been here since 1980, and he’s a Board Member for Taylor County Development Authority.

“We have are number of banks that are building new facilities,” Eckel explained. “We’ve had interest from companies that range from 10 to 15 jobs. We’ve had interest from companies that go into the hundreds.”

With all those potential jobs, the need for housing arises. Some 22.5 acres being developed in Perry will soon be home to more than 300 rental units. “I have children too,” Eckel added. “I want them to have an opportunity to live, work and play here.”

U.S. Census Bureau data shows Taylor County’s population grew from 19,379 in 2001 to an estimated 21,815 people in 2021.

“Everybody loves the small town feel,” Wirick added. “Everybody helps everybody out. We all support each other.”

Eckel also told said Big Bend Technical College, in Perry, recently added new nursing and truck-driving programs to help fulfill the needs we’ve talked about in those industries.