Gulf Power Company is introducing its new economic development program that will help communities create jobs by having large sites ready for business growth and expansions — a recognized need in Northwest Florida for successful economic development.

Through the program, the first-of-its-kind in Florida, potential industrial sites will be submitted to a site consultant firm retained by Gulf Power. The firm, McCallum Sweeney Consulting, will evaluate the sites, make recommendations for preparing the site for a new business and then certify the site once the improvements have been made.

“Having project-ready sites is critical for Northwest Florida to be competitive in economic development,” said John Hutchinson, Gulf Power’s director of Public Affairs and Economic Development. “Surrounding states have many sites that have the stamp of approval by an expert. It’s time we had such a program in our region.”

Site certification programs take much of the risk out of the game for a new business coming to town, according to Hutchinson.

“They know the site has been inspected and all the preliminary work has been done, such as permits, drainage work, the engineering for utilities, an available supply of water, transportation infrastructure such as roads and rail — all vital steps for locating a major employer.”

Gulf Power is paying for all of the program design costs and will pay one-half of the consultant costs for publicly owned parcels submitted by cities or counties. The consultant fees amount to about $20,000 per site. Private developers can participate as well, but will have to pay the full amount of the consultant fees. Gulf Power will not pay for any of the site improvements for public or privately owned sites.

Hutchinson said large companies competing in a global market want to move quickly and having certified sites allows them to do this. And, it takes the guesswork out of the process, which provides the kind of assurance businesses want when they expand or relocate.

Sites must be located within Gulf Power’s service territory and be at least 50-acres to qualify for the program.

“It’s all about preparing our communities for job growth,” Hutchinson said. “We have to have a competitive product to present to expanding or prospective businesses. Certified sites get us in the ball game.”