Two Florida State University graduate students are seeking input on the economic future of the county.

On Monday, March 4, Aaron Henderson and Kristi Malone, both FSU masters candidates, met with Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson and Franklin’s Promise Director Joe Taylor to discuss the future economics and demographics in the county.

Henderson said the pair accessed census records from 2010 in an attempt to get a snapshot of conditions in the county and are in the process of interviewing county residents to get a boots on the ground feel for social and economic conditions.

Johnson gave them in-depth information on the county’s economic woes and problems with the bay. He was quick to point out that although the county received no oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, its reputation was blackened by negative reporting of environmental effects further west. He painted a picture of the problems caused by lack of freshwater in the bay and the multigenerational ties of many families to the seafood industry.

Henderson and Malone said they were anxious to speak to Johnson because he is a lifelong resident of the county in addition to holding public office.

Taylor outlined some of the programs under way to provide education for underemployed seafood workers.

Johnson said one traditional problem with economic diversification schemes here is the tendency for seafood workers to return to life on the bay when fishing rebounds. He pointed out that many oystermen prefer the freedom and potential for substantial profit to a steady job, especially since few jobs here provide benefits as an incentive.

Taylor said interviews with local workers indicate that most require about $16 per hour just to make ends meet but most jobs only pay about $8 per hour.

Johnson told the students that based on building permits issued; development is rebounding “by baby steps” from the recent low point. He said he considers it important to view the county as a cohesive community working together.

“Even though Apalachicola is an attraction in its own right, we rely on visitors to St. George Island to come over here and shop and dine,” said the mayor.

The students said a “population pyramid” created to envision the age structure of the county indicates the bulk of the population is aged 25 to 50 years.

“We are an aging population,” said Johnson, pointing out that while young families are leaving, there is an influx of early retirees and people seeking to set up new businesses downtown.

Henderson and Malone said the working title of their thesis is “Future and current trends in Franklin County.” Working under Dr. Timothy Chapin, chairman of the FSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, their ultimate goal is to predict trends through the year 2030.

The students said they are seeking to interview members of local government and the business community but have had limited response to their introductory emails. If you would like to speak to them, call the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at (850) 645-9232.