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PORT ST. JOE — It’s a lament that many small communities face.
Children grow up, graduate high school, attend college and leave home for good because there are no opportunities to make a living.
Charlotte Faircloth knows all about that. The 21-year-old Port St. Joe resident knows many friends who don’t want to leave, but feel they have no choice.
So count Faircloth as a big supporter of the Port of Port St. Joe.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m younger and I’m not dying to get out of this town. The port will bring in jobs. I’m excited to show people this town.”
Many people in this Panhandle town of 4,000 are anxiously hoping for some activity at the port, some sign of potential.
Port St. Joe is a lot like Crystal River. Its main downtown street, Reid Avenue, has theme lighting and red-brick crosswalks and could double for Citrus Avenue.
And just like U.S. 19 in Crystal River, shops, restaurants and stores downtown and along U.S. 98 depend on a vibrant tourist trade in the spring and summer.
But the loss of the paper mill, which closed in 1998 and eliminated more than 800 jobs, is still felt.
“That’s when things started changing around here,” said Latonya Bailey, 33, a clerk at the Express Lane convenience store.
Bailey grew up in Port St. Joe and she’s hoping the port will bring jobs.
“I think it’ll give a real boost to the economy,” she said. “We need a steady source of income.”
Summer Smith, manager at Provisions restaurant on Reid Avenue, said the town needs jobs.
“People want Port St. Joe to stay the same but we need more opportunity,” she said. “There are no jobs around her.”
Barry Sellers, executive director of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce, arrived in Port St. Joe four months ago from Jonesboro, Ark.
“The reason I’m here — 51 percent of the reason I’m here — is that port,” Sellers said. “My goal is to give people a choice whether to stay or leave. Right now there isn’t much choice.”
Lena Hunt, 25, a stylist at Kelly Rene Hair Studio on Reid Avenue, said the economy is stagnant.
“We do need the jobs,” she said. “People who do have jobs, there’s not enough room for advancement.”
Like many, Hunt is counting on the port.
“I know it’s been an off-and-on deal for a while,” she said. “People would like to have more jobs — real jobs.”
Chronicle reporter Mike Wright can be reached at 352-563-3228 or email@example.com.