When most people think of Bay County, they think of beautiful beaches, but the area is starting to get a new reputation in the tech industry.
When Allan Branch, Co-Founder of LessAccounting.com first opened the doors of his Panama City office, there weren't many tech companies in the area. Now, he says, times are changing.
"New York, Chicago, Austin, they're great cities and they're always going to be bigger than us, but we can certainly have a huge community here. We have a growing community and more people are coming around every day," said Branch.
Minutes away from Branch's office is radar developer DeTect, which recently won a $9.5 million dollar contract with NASA.
"It'll be the largest radar we've ever built. It has an antenna the size of a football field," said DeTect CEO Gary Andrews.
DeTect has two local offices near the downtown Panama City area.
"We're looking at some large foreign contracts, one in India right now. That'd be about a $100 million dollar contract for us. If we're successful with that contract, we'll have to move to a much larger facility," said Andrews.
A larger facility would mean more jobs for DeTect.
Even during the recession, Andrews says DeTect continued hiring at competitive salaries.
"Our average wage rate here in Bay County is $52,000 a year. When, I think, the local average is only about $31K. So it creates higher tech, higher wage jobs," said Andrews.
That lower average salary can actually work to Bay County's advantage, in drawing more tech jobs to the area.
"$50 or 60 thousand dollars here is a great income. That wouldn't get you an intern in the Valley," said Branch.
Many believe the local boom in high tech jobs could shape the future of Panama City.
"We have the potential with ISorona here, with ARA, with others here to really build a technology campus downtown, where we not only have buildings, but we have places for people to live and work. That's the kind of direction I'd like to see us go," said Neal Wade of Bay County's Economic Development Alliance.
Allan Branch encourages those interested in pursuing careers in technology based fields to put networking skills to the test.
He says many people in downtown Panama City offer "meet ups" to teach some web developing skills for free.