SPECIAL SECTION March 2018
50 An Iconic Undertaking
The single largest infrastructure project in the history of Northwest Florida is underway on Pensacola Bay. Just how big is it and what will mean for our future?
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Bringing Oysters Back to the Bay Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. is helping to pave the way to build a huge – and sustainable – oyster industry right here in Pensacola.
Dr. Jyotika Virmani wants robots to map the sea floor. With a $7 million prize purse to offer, she hopes to inspire innovation. Virmani spoke with NWFLBC in an exclusive interview.
Find out what is happening in business, government and cultural news in the greater Pensacola area and northwest Florida.
Around the Region
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Bringing Oysters Back to the Bay Florida’s Gulf Coast, and indeed the entire Gulf Coast extending through Texas, has always been a haven for oysters and other mollusks. This has allowed Florida to have a booming aquaculture industry in the past, but in recent years, natural disasters have severely reduced the amount of production.
Pensacola, however, is helping pave the way to reviving the industry, and its vanguard is the Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. Originally founded in 2013 by Donnie McMahon, it was designed to fill a niche in Pensacola that had long been vacant. “Pensacola used to have a thriving habitat and industry for oysters a long time ago, but most of that went away. I sat on the BP oil committee and I saw the decline of
the oysters, and thought it would be great if someone brought them back,” said McMahon, who is also the president of McMahon and Hadder insurance. Traditionally, oysters grew and were harvested from oyster bed reefs, but environmental changes have made that more and more difficult. McMahon said that much of the beds had been mined up to use for roadway paving, leaving little space for the oysters to grow on. Pollutants from the Deepwater
Horizon oil spill, natural predators like Atlantic oyster drills, increased silt from hurricane run-off and rising ocean levels have made it more difficult for oysters to grow naturally. The solution to this is to change how oysters are grown, at least for the time being. Instead of traditionally growing them on seafloor beds, Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. farms their oysters on floating cages. “These cages float at the top of the water column instead of at the bottom. When they are at the top, they have more access to food and oxygen,” said McMahon. “This makes them bigger and healthier, and they also have a cleaner taste when you eat them.” According to Fish 2.0, an organization that connects seafood businesses and investors in order to
by Tanner Yea Photos by Steven Gray
grow a sustainable seafood sector, the US oyster industry was worth over $200 million at its height in the 80s, with a yield over 55 million pounds. That has dropped to around $150 million and 30 million pounds as of 2014. One of the biggest issues relating to that decrease is a lack of what McMahon calls ‘breedstock’ – oyster larvae that can be used to regrow natural oyster beds. Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. was recently awarded $100,000 through the Innovation Coast Awards in order to build an oyster hatchery that farms that breedstock to send all over the Gulf Coast. “All these different bays around Florida have heritage breeds – oysters are different from East Bay to Escambia Bay to Mobile Bay – and we are trying to get those numbers back to other farms,” said McMahon. Business Climate
Bringing Oysters Back to the Bay Though the oyster industry is only now starting to return to its feet, its revival has a lot of benefits both environmental and economic. According to the initial proposal for the hatchery project, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts increases in US aquaculture can create over 50,000 new jobs nationally and produce more than $1 billion in farm gate value. As an example, the successful oyster farm industry in Washington state as of 2010 had generated
only filter and clean the water, but they are an anchor species that attracts sea grasses, fish and other mollusks to our local habitats. McMahon said they are also partnering with the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition in order to monitor water quality and how to improve it. “We also want to provide learning opportunities – we want to help with classes like oyster gardening that allow people to farm small oyster batches off their own docks and to show students around our
“People want more local dining, and we are helping to fill that demand. Farm-to-table eating is becoming more popular, and we sell our fresh oysters to local restaurants.” $184 million in economic activity, created roughly 2,000 jobs either directly or indirectly, and generated $77.2 million in labor income. The hatchery proposal claims these numbers can easily be replicated in Pensacola and across the state in general. In addition to boosting the local economy, Pensacola’s tourism industry can also contribute to that. According to Visit Pensacola, the city saw a seven percent increase in tourists who included local dining as part of their itineraries, and many were looking for new experiences exclusive to the area. “People want more local dining, and we are helping to fill that demand. Farm-to-table eating is becoming more popular, and we sell our fresh oysters to local restaurants like the Atlas Oyster Bar,” said McMahon. “We are even sending oysters to places like Birmingham, Atlanta and Memphis, and they are seeing how good our product is.” McMahon also said Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. is dedicated to helping rebuild the environment through the use of oysters. Their beds not
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farm and hatchery to educate them on oysters,” said McMahon. Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. may be the only oyster farm in Pensacola at the moment, but they are leading the way for more innovation and more entrepreneurs. Local Travis Gill has also bought lands with intention to begin farming, though McMahon said his operation is still gaining steam. “Pensacola Bay Oysters Co.’s goal is to become a fully integrated oyster farm – doing everything from the farming to the hatchery to growing breedstocks for smaller farms across the country,” said McMahon. “We are really a pioneering company for Pensacola, and we are trying to ‘brand’ the city and get its name out there. That’s why we’re called Pensacola Bay Oyster Co.” For more information on Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. and its mission, visit pensacolabayoyster.com.
Pensacola Bay Oyster Co.’s oysters are grown in floating cages atop the water column - allowing for larger, cleaner and healthier oysters than traditional bed farming.
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An Iconic Undertaking: A look at the scale of the new Bay bridge
The scale of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge project can be hard to grasp. Hundreds of millions of pounds of concrete. Twenty four million pounds of steel. Four hundred million dollars. The single largest transportation infrastructure project in Northwest Florida history. “It’s one thing to see it on paper,” said Santa Rosa County commissioner and FloridaAlabama Transportation Planning Organization chairman Rob Williamson. “It’s something all together different to be driving adjacent to this massive change to the vista and entry to both our counties and start to see the size and scope of this bridge come to life right in front of us.” The project has already been underway for nearly a year. Cranes like crisscrossed skyscrapers tower over the old 50 Business Climate
bridge, maneuvering huge concrete structures into place. The driving of piles echoes across the bay. The current bridge opened in 1960 and was declared structurally deficient in 2010, having reached the end of its 50-year lifespan. Northwest Florida was fortunate in the years directly afterward to have Don Gaetz sitting as president of the state senate. After leaving office, Gaetz told the story of how the new bridge was originally intended to be a toll bridge. Rather than
let that plan move forward, however, Gaetz refused to sign off on the state Department of Transportation’s multi-year work plan for the I-4 corridor unless money was found to fund the bridge without a toll. “I said, ‘I’m telling you you’re going to have to wait two more years until I’m out of this office, because I’m not signing these documents unless there’s something in this arrangement for Northwest Florida,” Gaetz said at the time. The FDOT agreed to not place a toll on the bridge,
BY WILL ISERN PHOTOS COURTESY OF FDOT
and began soliciting bids for construction. Following a lengthy selection process in 2016, Skanska USA Civil Southeast was selected as the design-build firm to construct the new bridge at a price of $398.5 million. Based upon Skanska’s design, the new bridge will actually be two identical spans stretching side-by-side across the bay. The first span is being built now, with three lanes, ten-foot shoulders and walking paths on either said. Skanska stands to earn a $15 million bonus if it can complete construction of the first span by Jan. 2019 and move traffic from the current bridge onto the new span. The current bridge will then be torn down and a second, identical span will be built in its place. Total completion is scheduled for summer of 2020. FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said the project has required intense coordination
Top left: The new bridge will have remote-controlled “aesthetically pleasing bridge lighting” with different color settings, including a sea turtle friendly setting. Top right: The 75-foot steel “tied arches” will stretch over both shared use paths atop the bridge. Bottom left: Each span of the new bridge will have three 12-foot lanes, two 10-foot shoulders and a 10-foot shared use path. Bottom right: The new bridge will rise to a height of 150 feet at its highest point.
between FDOT, Skanska and governments on both sides of the bridge. “First and foremost it’s a monumental project for us so there’s a lot of work for us, for our contractor and for their subcontractors,” he said. “From day one of this process we’ve communicated with Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties because this project affects all of us.”
will be poured – foot-by-foot – for 3.7 miles. As well as being wider and taller than the current bridge, the new bridge will also feature several technological upgrades including “aesthetically pleasing bridge lighting” with different color setting, closecircuit video monitoring and a “Wrong Way Detection System”. The work to build the bridge
“I think when f irst time visitors land at the airport and come across the bridge, whether they’re going to Pensacola Beach, or Navarre or visiting the Andrew’s Institute, that bridge is going to tell a very favorable story about the growth and direction of this part of Florida.” The new bridge will be made up of thousands of replications of three main pieces. There are the supporting piles, driven deep into the floor of the bay, the “trophy pieces” that extend like “Y” shapes from tops of the piles, and the horizontal beams that will stretch across trophy pieces, forming the support upon which the driving surface of the bridge
begins at the Bayou Chico casting yard where 280 daily workers cast the huge concrete structures that are delivered by barge to the new bridge site. There, another 80 workers position, set and fasten the pieces in to place. Crews have recently begun to pour the first sections of the new bridge’s driving surface on the Gulf Breeze side of bridge.
Estimates from the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development indicate the project is creating or sustaining approximately 4,800 jobs in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, along with the rest of the state. As chairman of the FloridaAlabama Transportation Planning Organization, Williamson said he sees the new bridge as testament to the growth of the part of the state. “I think when first time visitors land at the airport and come across the bridge, whether they’re going to Pensacola Beach, or Navarre or visiting the Andrew’s Institute, that bridge is going to tell a very favorable story about the growth and direction of this part of Florida,” he said. “We are the future of Florida as it relates growth and I think this amount of money being allocated here from Tallahassee demonstrates that.”
By the numbers Cubic yards of concrete: 162,000 Pounds of steel: 23.6 million Number of piles: 2,124 Number of “trophy pieces”: 416 Number of beams: 1,020 Number of travel lanes: Three east and three westbound (12feet each). Number of shoulders: Four, two on each bridge (10-feet wide). Number of bicycle/pedestrian paths: One on each bridge (10feet wide). Average daily traffic count: 55,000 vehicles. Construction period: 1,408 days (plus allowable delays for weather, etc.) Construction cost: $398.5 million. Estimated completion: Summer 2020 Source: Florida Department of Transportation
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Incentivising Innovation: An Interview with Dr. Jyotika Virmani Dr. Jyotika Virmani is Senior Director in Prize Operations for Xprize, a nonprofit organization that designs and manages public competitions to encourage technological innovation to benefit humanity. Virmani is prize lead for the Shell Ocean Discovery Xprize, which seeks to develop autonomous systems to map the sea floor at high resolution. Pensacola Magazine caught up with Virmani after a recent pair of talks at the University of West Florida’s Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering. What is Xprize? With the shell Ocean Discovery Xprize the long-term impact is we would like these technologies to map the sea floor at very high resolution. Our goal is to have that done by 2030. To have a high resolution sea floor map with current existing technology it would take $3 billion and 600 years to do that. That just gives you a small scope of some of the challenges we’re hoping to address with Xprize. What is goal of mapping sea floor? The vision there is for a healthy, valued and understood
ocean. You don’t make something healthy unless you value it and you don’t tend to value something unless you understand it. So the Xprize is a key element of understanding what’s out there. When you go to another city you look at a map to figure out where you are. Well we do not yet have a high-resolution map of the sea floor. On average it’s a one-kilometer map, so imagine not knowing what’s around you for one kilometer. This ties into more practical uses like the search for the Malaysian airline. In the future the idea is we will have robots that you can deploy from he
shore that can go out and find the plane that has gone done autonomously instead of spending money doing the rescue. When they did that search, they didn’t find the airline but they found two new volcanoes; so this is how little we know of our own planet right now. I like to say its like living in a three-floor house and you only know what’s on the first floor. It’s a core piece of understanding our own planet. There’s so much to discover in the ocean and I think with the high-res resolution as our baseline we can then start to focus on this higher-level stuff. Ultimately the cure for different diseases may be down there.
How can competitions like Xprize drive innovation? Xprize or any prize competition creates incentives to pursue goals that might cost prohibitive or otherwise not feasible. For this competition, the prize is a total prize purse of $7 million, so that attracts attention. Some people who’ve had great ideas but have just never had the incentive to participate. Interestingly, what we find from teams is that (the prize) may be the initial draw but as they go through the process it becomes more about the satisfaction of being a part of something that’s bigger, it’s overcoming the challenges. People might worth through the night to achieve a deadline; it’s the sense of achievement to say ‘We took part,’ whether
An artist’s rendering of a mapped sea floor. The Shell Ocean Xprize seeks to incentivize teams to develop autonomous robots capable of mapping the sea floor in high resolution. they win or not they have sense of achievement. They also form a strong community of people who have passions and skills and a lot of times they’ll continue to stay in touch after the competition is over. Another big reason is the test bed we can provide for them its something that’s not easy for an individual entity to obtain. We often hear from the teams afterward that the test platform was invaluable. For example, renting a research vessel for a week can get very expensive so for these teams to be able to test their ideas on that kind of platform is very valuable for them. We’ve seen this with previous competitions; it’s not just the winning team that goes forward. There’s a number of other teams that set up their own companies through the course of the competition, they get experience and marketing experience through fundraising because they’ve already got prototypes that have been tested or gone through two or three versions of development, so ultimately it’s the beginning of this field of new companies that are beginning to address 54 Business Climate
new problems. So we often say when we award the prize that this is just the beginning because the prize is about defining the problem and developing suggestions toward the problem, its after the competition is over that the real work begins. You recently spoke at the Museum of Commerce as part of the Great Minds Lecture Series hosted by the University of West Florida’s Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering. What was your message? I talked about how a good idea can come from anywhere. The reason that we have navigation at seas is because in the early 1700s the British government sponsored the longitude prize (to develop a reliable way to determine longitude at sea). It turned out it was a clockmaker in rural England who invented the marine chronometer. Of the 350 or so individuals in the Xprize, about 170 of them are students are some are middle school students and high school students. So we present the problem and not the solution, so it opens it up
for anyone to participate. How do you decide on what problems to pursue? We always look at market failures, like why has a problem not been solved. So for this one, why has the sea floor not been mapped? One of the market failures was it’s going to cost about $3 billion. It’s very expensive to go to sea. So for this competition we have eliminated the need for ships since its done with autonomous vehicles that are launched from the shore. What are some of the applications of highresolution sea mapping technology? Currently the industries that can reach the deep seas are very few in number because its so expensive. You have the opportunities for deep sea conservation, environmental management, tourism – all these other entities that currently do not have the capabilities to see what’s going on down there that will have access.
What about specifically for Florida? We have some areas that are fairly well mapped, but I think there’s still a long way to go to get a completely solid highresolution map. Why is autonomy so important to what you hope to accomplish? The autonomy is about making it cheaper. We’re in a really interesting moment in human history and that is technological revolution going on. The rate of change is increasing at an exponential rate so we want to pull some of that into the marine realm and that includes autonomy and artificial intelligence. It’s kind of like the NASA model. We’re exploring a new planet, it just happens to be four kilometers away, and the first thing you do when exploring a new planet is send a robot to get a nice map.
Around the Region Uwf Forms Office Of Military Engagement, Appoints Retired Navy Captain As President’s Military Liaison As part of its continuing support and dedication to serving the military, the University of West Florida has formed a new Office of Military Engagement. UWF President Martha D. Saunders has named retired U.S. Navy Capt. Chris Middleton as the president’s military liaison, serving as the primary point of contact between her office and military and defense organizations. “I am happy to take this step toward enhancing our military outreach,” Saunders said. “We have common values to serve the public, grow the region and provide the foundations for future success.” Middleton will be charged with strengthening relationships with Florida’s defense industry, developing a strategic plan for the Office of Military Engagement and planning and executing University-sponsored military outreach events. He will also coordinate meetings with University leadership and senior military leaders in order to create opportunities and partnerships that will enhance the symbiotic relationship between UWF and the local military community. “I am proud to serve the President and the University in growing our common work with military partners,” Middleton said. “We can accelerate our strategic ambitions together. I look forward to the engagements.” Middleton also serves as director for strategic innovation at UWF, where he collaborates with internal and external partners to research, design and implement strategic projects in
academic, military and corporate settings. He also works with community, regional and national stakeholders to identify common strategic interests for value-based relationships and initiatives. The University has a long-established history of supporting the military, with approximately 24 percent of the student population affiliated with the armed services, including active duty, veteran, National Guard or military reserves and dependent spouses or children. It has been named a Military Friendly® school by Victory Media for the last 10 years and was most recently ranked fifth in the nation on the 2018 list for the large public schools category. The UWF Military and Veterans Resource Center, led by retired Master Chief Marc Churchwell, serves as a leading campus advocate for more than 3,000 military, dependents and veteran students, working to ensure the needs of these individuals are met through coordinating with multiple university offices and services. The center is in its seventh year and provides assistance with Veterans Affairs education benefits; active duty tuition assistance; out-of-state fee waivers; academic advising coordination; tutoring; counseling; disability accommodations; referral to state and federal resources and services; and more. Prior to arriving at UWF, Middleton completed a 25-year naval career at Naval Education and Training Command in Pensacola. During his time in the Navy, he also served as a Commanding Officer of a combat-deployed squadron on an
aircraft carrier and also of the Navy’s largest EA18G and EA-6B training squadron at Whidbey Island, Washington. He has over 3,000 flight hours and more than 800 carrier landings on eight aircraft carriers. Between his command tours, Middleton was selected as a U.S. Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow, assigned to FedEx Express World Headquarters in Memphis, where he served with the Global Leadership Institute. He attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island in 2008, and was selected as a member of the Stockdale Advanced Research Group chartered to the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership. His major staff tour was with the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, where he served on the personal staff. He also served in the U.S. Pacific Fleet Operations Directorate, planning future operations. He has deployed with a Special Operations Task Force. “The path has been very rewarding. I am grateful to my wife, Bridget, and our children for support along the way,” Middleton said. “Benefiting our current service members in any work is a great privilege.” Middleton is a native of Laurel, Maryland and was commissioned from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in general engineering. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne School and the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course at Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia.
Jockey Being Family Signs Bubba Watson As Its Newest Ambassador The Jockey Being Family Foundation, Ltd. (Jockey Being Family) today announced that it has signed professional golfer Bubba Watson as an ambassador to raise awareness for the foundation and the need for post-adoption services. Known for hitting long drives with his hot pink driver, Watson is a two-time Masters® champion and ten-time winner on the PGA Tour. Watson, and his wife, Angie, have adopted two children, Caleb and Dakota. Jockey Being Family is Jockey International, Inc.’s corporate charitable initiative, which provides resources and support to post-adoption organizations to help strengthen adoptive families once an adoption is finalized. To date, the foundation has helped strengthen more than 325,000 families by providing post-adoption resources and support. Jockey Being Family’s mission is simple: It believes that every child deserves to grow up with a loving family in a forever home. “I could not be more excited to join the team at Jockey Being Family to help raise awareness for adoption and post-adoption services,” said Watson. “I know that I have a platform and responsibility to help others, and this is a cause
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near and dear to my heart. Together, we can, and will, impact thousands of families.” “Jockey Being Family is thrilled to partner with Bubba Watson to help strengthen adoptive families across the country,” said Debra S. Waller, founder of Jockey Being Family. “Together, with Bubba and Angie’s support, we can have an even greater impact in helping families better understand and have access to post-adoptions resources.”
Watson and his family will help the foundation raise awareness and funds during key times to expand resources and support available to adoptive families, specifically during National Foster Care Month (May) and National Adoption Awareness Month (November). As part of the relationship, Watson will make appearances on behalf of Jockey Being Family, highlighted by the annual Jockey Being Family® Gala and Golf in Lake Geneva, Wis. May 20-21, 2018.
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