Panama City is the county seat and the largest city of Bay County, Florida. The county population of 150,000 has grown 17 percent since 1990. We are looking forward to the results of the 2010 census to see what changes in population demographics have occurred. In the 2000 census, 19 percent of the population was classified as nonwhite; we have people of many ethnicities, Hispanic, Asian, European, among others. The median age in the county was 36.3 and there were 112,508 persons 18 years or older. Panama City itself has about 40,000 people living within its incorporated boundaries. Additionally there are seven other incorporated cities in the county.
Panama City, in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, is halfway between Tallahassee, the state capital, and Pensacola, the location of the diocesan headquarters. U.S. Highway 231 is the major road north and U.S. Highway 98 is the east-west artery. Interstate 10 is about an hour’s drive north from Panama City. The Panama City airport has recently moved to the western edge of the county and now offers daily flights on three scheduled airlines. These bring tourists from all over the United States and around the world to our sugar white sandy beaches. In fact, tourism is one of the major industries in Bay County.
TheBay County School System operates 32 schools for 27,000 students. These include 19 elementary schools, 5 middle schools, 6 senior high schools, 1 adult education facilities and 1 vocational-technical facility. A ten-year sales tax referendum provides funds for renovation and construction of new school facilities. In addition to public schools there are also several private schools affiliated with various religious organizations and independent charter schools.
Opportunities for post secondary education are also available in the county. Gulf Coast Community College serves 21,000 students with degree, university transfer, and continuing education programs. The Panama City Campus of Florida State University offers nine undergraduate and fourteen master’s degree programs. Troy State University and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University provide both undergraduate and master’s programs at campus facilities located atTyndall Air Force Base.
The Federal Government is the other major employer in Bay County, providing about 10,500 jobs between Tyndall Air Force Base (8,048) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (2,520). Other large employers, in order of size, include the Bay County School Board, Bay Medical Center(recognized as one of the top 50 hospitals in America, especially for its Cardiology Services), Columbia Gulf Coast Hospital, and numerous resorts and hotels. Five manufacturing establishments employ 300-600 employees each. However the majority of private industry employers (88 percent) have less than 20 employees. Over half of the employees in Bay County work in the service industry or retail trade. Per capita personal income in 2000 was $24,152. In 2009 11% of the county citizens lived below the federal poverty level of $16,050 for a family of four. Between 1985 and 1995 the number of non-agricultural wage and salaried jobs in Bay County increased by 20 percent. In 2000, Bay County’s average unemployment rate was 6 percent; however, because of the recent economic crisis (2008-2010) it has increased to over 10%. An active effort is being made to recruit businesses to the area through such incentives as industrial parks, which take advantage of rail lines, the deep-water port, and the proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway, and tax benefits.