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COVER STORY | Vol. 11, No. 4, January 29, 2009
(Rising Stars 2009)

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2009 Rising Stars

Jobs, Economic Development and Maritime Park are their priorities

Since 2005, Independent News has published a list of Rising Stars, individuals who work or live in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties who are seen as the upcoming leaders in their professions and in the community. Each year the number of nominees of talented men and women under the age of 35 grows. This year we had 141 nominees. Our panel had a difficult time culling the list down to the top third, but the final list is one that gives us hope about the future of our area.

The IN asked the 2009 Rising Stars to rank the most important issues facing this community. Attracting jobs and economic development were, by far, their top priorities. Education and Environment were a distant second and third.

Developer Tosh Belsinger believes that all of the issues on the Rising Stars survey are important, but that it is most important that we establish a pragmatic strategy for these issues so that all are addressed intelligently and efficiently.

"First and foremost, Pensacola must focus its energies on attracting new jobs and developing its economic infrastructure in the most environmentally friendly and economically feasible manner possible," Belsinger says. "Once this commitment has been made, many of the other issues listed will follow suit by the laws of supply and demand.

New jobs will mean new people to Pensacola and with new people will come a market and opportunity for: the public sector to better fund education with increased tax revenues; the public and private sector to invest in the development of new affordable housing; and all citizens and businesses to invest in the continued growth of our city's arts and entertainment."

This generation of Rising Stars is probably more mobile than any of its predecessors. Many can work and live anywhere in the country and make more money than they earn here. In these tough economic times, there is even more pressure to seek the best jobs and best places to live. Yet these 46 men and women have made conscious decisions to live here.

For most of them, it's the natural beauty of this place, its history and the people that are the difference makers.

For Emily Mixon, who grew up in Pensacola, the history and culture are the big draws.

"I am blessed to be here during the 450th celebration of the first settlement in America," Mixon says. "I live in downtown Pensacola, so I have many opportunities to experience a unique fusion of arts, culture and history."

Derek Cosson, creator of the Web site, says, "Despite the problems that face us, there are so many good reasons. Even though I've lived elsewhere, I've always been bound to Pensacola. It's my home, and I love it for better or worse. I've met people that don't understand that, but to me, it's as natural as can be."

There is also a sense among the Rising Stars that Pensacola is on the verge of something great, and they want to be a part of it.

Lutimothy May, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, sees the relocation of the Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant, the Community Maritime Park and the expansion of the Port of Pensacola and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport as indicators that changes are coming.

"Pensacola, at the present, is on the brink of explosive economic growth," May says.

The IN also wanted to know what the Rising Stars would like to see in the greater Pensacola area in the next five years. Building the Vince Whibbs, Sr. Community Maritime Park is at the top of many of their wish lists. Many had worked hard for the passage of the Maritime Park referendum in 2006 and are disappointed that we still are waiting for construction to begin.

"While I have issues with the way the CMPA has handled the process, particularly its attitude toward the citizenry," Cosson says, "I still believe that the CMP is a good project, and that if we can manage to get it done, it will be the centerpiece around which a revitalization of our downtown area will take place."

He adds, "On a personal note, I can't wait to take in a baseball game on Pensacola Bay."

Consolidation is also on their minds.

"I would like to see our community come together to adopt the Unified Government," insurance agent Kristine Karsten, says. "We need to take a step to consolidate efforts to take advantage of the leverage that we have."

Attorney James Turner, Jr. hopes over the next five years "local government embraces a comprehensive growth management plan that fosters business and industry but that also maintains our area's scenic beauty."

There is a downside to being tabbed a Rising Star. You are expected to move from the large of group of complainers, dreamers and those who love to offer suggestions to the much smaller cadre of doers.

What the greater Pensacola area looks like by 2014 depends to a great extent on the leadership and the hard work of these Rising Stars. The Baby Boomers have had their shot. Now it's time for fresh energy and talent.

It appears the 2009 Rising Stars are fully equipped to meet the challenge.

2009 Rising Stars A-H
2009 Rising Stars I-Z


2009 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Environment
4. Affordable housing
5. Healthcare for uninsured
6. Arts and entertainment
7. Consolidation of government
8. Size and structure of local government
9. Transportation

Other: Community Maritime Park, Attracting Young Entrepreneurs, Affordable Energy, Military Base Protection/Enhancement, Spaying/Neutering of Pets, Retaining Talent, More Direct Flights in and out of Pensacola, More Community Involvement for Citizens With Developmental Disabilities, Good Healthcare, Spirituality, Poverty Reduction, Resolution of Superfund Sites' Clean-Up, City Beautification, Football at UWF

2008 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Healthcare for uninsured
4. Environment
5. Affordable housing
6. Size and structure of local government
7. Arts and entertainment
8. Transportation
9. Code enforcement