Jul 12, 2010 7:49 PM by Chris Welty
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - First lady Michelle Obama visited the
Florida Panhandle on Monday to shine a spotlight on a tourism
industry battered by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
She met business and tourism leaders, walked barefoot on a beach
and stopped at an ice cream shop, proclaiming the region a
wonderful place to visit.
Obama's plane landed at the new Northwest Florida Beaches
International Airport in Panama City, which was built to bring in
more tourists and opened in May, just as the number of visitors
began dropping due to the spill.
Obama told Panama City-area leaders that she came to show the
world that not all of the Gulf Coast's beaches were coated with
"People are looking for things to do with their kids this
summer and this is a wonderful place to visit," Obama told a
round-table discussion group of local leaders.
The business, tourism and political leaders told her that the
region was suffering a perception problem because of oil that has
washed ashore in heavier amounts along beaches to the west. They
said they are feeling the economic ripples of the BP spill in the
construction, fishing and restaurant industries.
Yonnie Patronis, whose family has operated a seafood restaurant
in the area since 1953, told Obama that he had to take oysters off
his menu - not because oysters are not safe - but because all
oyster harvesters have been hired by BP.
Lonnie Andrews said work at his construction business is at an
all-time low because no one is investing in the area.
Vanessa Jones, 52, was encouraged by Obama's visit.
"It is good to know she has an understanding," said the
assistant banquet manager at the boardwalk resort were Obama spoke.
"And I appreciate her and the history she's made, a history I
thought I'd never see," she said.
Obama later visited the Pink Pelican Ice Cream Bar, where she
ordered the flavor called chocolate hurricane and talked with young
children. "This is a big visit for this little town," said Rick
Dorman, owner of the ice cream store, as he worked behind the
counter filling orders.