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July 2020

From the Director's Desk

By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
     A few months back - just as the COVID-19 pandemic was tightening its grip on our world - I shared how there often tends to be a close correlation between CRISIS and OPPORTUNITY.  Since that time, I've continued to be amazed at how innovative our local businesses have proven to be, as they seek to find the opportunity within the crisis.  Point in question, we personally know of two companies that are seeking to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Okaloosa County.  Not surprisingly, neither business was focused on PPE five months ago, but they saw an opportunity, applied some good old fashioned American ingenuity, and supplemented their existing lines of business to accommodate a new venture that will likely pay serious future dividends.
     As the EDC has also sought to identify the opportunity within the crisis, our focus has been on forming strategic partnerships and making the necessary pivots to better serve Okaloosa's business community.  We spotlighted one of these partnerships - the new University of Florida Innovation Station (UFIS) located at the UF Research Engineering & Education Facility (REEF) in Shalimar - in our May newsletter.  Notably, the UF Innovation Station will be an active participant in engineering-related workforce development initiatives while also providing local technical employers with direct access to leading UF academics and researchers who can assist them with solving real world challenges.
     Another partnership we are proud to have recently cemented is with FloridaMakes - a statewide, industry-led partnership with the sole mission of improving the competitiveness, productivity and technological performance of Florida's manufacturing sector.  Noting the obvious value to our local manufacturers including the businesses involved in our TeCMEN committee, the EDC was proud to sign an MOU with FloridaMakes earlier this month.  You can read more about this exciting development in this month's newsletter.
     In other news, just last week we were thrilled to unveil Startup Okaloosa - a new, on-line virtual entrepreneurial incubator found at  With so many bright, talented Okaloosa County citizens being displaced by COVID-19 related layoffs - and with many of those same individuals looking to reboot their career paths - we wanted to develop an information-rich resource for those who may be inclined to start (or restart) businesses of their own.  With the site now up and running, we're excited about the direction this can go as we seek to add more interactivity and valuable content in the future.  Please read the article inside and visit the site to learn more.
     Finally, for those who have not yet heard the news, EDC and TeCMEN leadership made the difficult decision to postpone our August 27 TeCMEN Industry Day to April 14, 2021.  A survey of our 37 exhibitors and 13 sponsors found that, in light of recent local and state COVID-19 caseload spikes, more than 50% had concerns with the event being held in August.  While we are disappointed that the event had to be postponed, we feel it was the right call to make in light of the circumstances.  We also know that the April 14 TeCMEN Industry Day will be bigger and better than ever! 
Defense Support Initiatives, DSI

By Bob Marinan, Chairman
     The DSI team met virtually for our June & July meetings; as I imagine most of you are doing in your respective meetings and probably will be for the near future.  The permanent moratorium of oil drilling in the eastern Gulf and extension of the Military Mission Line (MML) dominated the discussion in both meetings.  The DSI has teamed up with OCEANA, a global nonprofit ocean conservation organization that is advocating to protect the eastern Gulf from drilling and has a strong advocacy outreach program.  On June 23rd, OCEANA hosted a virtual congressional advocacy meeting where several DSI members participated.  Our Florida Senators support a continued ban on drilling in the Eastern Gulf; however, the President's support is only until the November elections.  General (Ret) Fornell has written an editorial to the Tampa Bay Times and Colonel (Ret) Jim Heald has composed a concise three-point MML advocacy paper.  I have written letters to targeted defense industry Presidents whose companies utilize the Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range extensively for testing and requested their support.  Governor DeSantis' office has released their Oil Drilling Moratorium Extension Strategic Plan, and both Congressman Gaetz and Congressman Dunn remain strong supporters of a permanent moratorium. 
      With the spike in COVID-19 cases in our local area, both Brig General Scott Cain (Eglin/CC) and Colonel Jocelyn Schermerhorn (1st SOW/CC) have reached out to the local leadership expressing their concern and requesting our support in helping to keep their airman, soldiers, sailors and marines safe and healthy.  Both commanders are concerned about impacts to their respective missions if more care is not taken at off-base locations.  Eglin AFB has returned to mission essential only and Hurlburt Air Field is at mission required status.
      The Eglin West Area Development Plan is moving forward.  The HDR Engineering Company was selected to develop a plan to of alternatives for the realignment of SR 85 in the vicinity of Eglin's West Gate.  They will also develop a plan to realign existing traffic patterns in the area, to improve access to the boundary of the West Gate, to improve public access to the Air Force Armament Museum, and to access the Eglin Hospital.  The existing Eglin fence line will be moved to the west toward the University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility allowing for additional development.
     During these unprecedented times, the DSI continues to monitor military related activities and stands ready to assist as necessary.
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network

By David Haines, Chairman

     "Un precedented" is the only word that seems to come even close to defining 2020. Months ago, we thought that things were pretty grim with COVID-19 spreading across the county like wildfire and predictions of millions of lives lost, and thankfully the latter didn't happen. Due to the COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders, mandated business closures, a displaced workforce, kids out of school, and wildly vacillating stock market led us into severe socio-economic instability. Thankfully Congress and the President stepped up with stimulus checks, the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), and a disaster relief loan which helped to somewhat stabilize our economy and allowed us to begin the slow process of opening our economy back up. So, having thought we had seen the worst of it we got up, knocked the dust off, and got back to work and began making actual progress when COVID-19 reared its ugly head once again. As a result, and after serious consideration it was decided that out of an abundance of caution, we would reschedule our TeCMEN Industry day until the 14th of April 2021. A hard decision for sure but with all the uncertainty I think it was the only decision that could be made.
     Let's discuss moving forward. I'm interested to see how industry and manufacturing will be affected not only by the virus but the political wranglings of an election year. Like it or not we have entered the election year cycle and it's no secret that many feel a "bad economy", the second wave of COVID-19, and continued civil unrest will dash President Trump's chances of re-election. Let me be clear at this point, I'm not advocating for anyone to be elected or re-elected, but stating the reality of the times in which we now live and how it may affect businesses not only on the Gulf Coast but throughout our entire country. That being said, on to some predictions; I think moving forward we will see more calls for state-mandated COVID-19 business shutdowns, more stay-at-home orders, and higher unemployment rates. There is also a very serious chance that many schools will not reopen this fall, further growing the education gap within our country and leaving some kids with a risk of malnourishment. Sadly, it is at schools where many children receive their only decent meal of the day. I also believe we will also see the disturbing trend of civil unrest continue at least through November 4th and maybe longer depending on how the political winds blow. 
     One ray of light on the horizon is that Congress is preparing to send a 1-2 trillion-dollar stimulus package to the President which he will most definitely sign. This spending will be an unfortunate addition to our national debt but I don't see how many businesses would survive without it. What I've seen here locally is that businesses have used the last round of stimulus to stay afloat, keep personnel on staff, and took steps to streamline and stabilize their businesses. Another factor that has helped our area is that while the entertainment industries have taken it on the chin, the local manufacturing and DOD related companies have fared far better helping immeasurably to keep our areas economically afloat.
     In conclusion, I would caution that we need to be wise in our corporate "strategies" for finishing out the year because this wild "Unprecedented" roller-coaster we call 2020 is going have several more twists before it's done.

Business Diversity Leads the Way

y Kevin Lovelace

As we pass by the mid-year mark, we continue to see exciting project activ ity.  Quantities of projects, potential job creation, and the diversity of industries looking at Okaloosa  County is very high.  In their site selection process, these companies see the value in the many assets Okaloosa County has to offer, including business friendly and fiscally responsible government leadership, a strong educational ecosystem, and a world-class workforce.

Another exciting trend is the number of different regions of the world that are considering making Okaloosa home.  While domestic U.S. companies remain the largest compone nt of prospective companies, Canada, Europe, and Asia are also well represented.  This geographic diversity also reflects varied industry sectors.

In June 2020, the Site Selectors Guild conducted a survey of 50 members about trends in their clients' location strategies.  The current trend is for companies seeking another location to first consider suburban or mid-sized urban markets before rural or urban options.  This trend fits perfectly with the Okaloosa County population of around 209,000 citizens.

EDC Launches on-line Startup Okaloosa

The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County has created a new, on-line resource tailored to assist aspiring entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners.  Dubbed Startup Okaloosa, the virtual incubator can now be found at   Structured as an information portal, the site links to traditional and non-traditional funding partners, key advisory organizations, real estate options (including local co-working spaces) and educational resources.  The site also includes curated news articles featuring timely information deemed relevant to entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as announcements of local networking and educational events.

As Startup Okaloosa evolves over time, targeted video content including interviews with local entrepreneurs will be added, along with other features designed to be of benefit to the intended audience.  Community partners and organizations who interface with existing and aspiring entrepreneurs are encouraged to share the resource freely with their respective networks. 
Strategic Partnership with FloridaMakes

The EDC has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with FloridaMakes  which will add immediate value to the EDC's long-standing Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network (TeCMEN).  With a stated goal of maximizing the level of operational resources available to the EDC's TeCMEN and its members, the agreement will result in TeCMEN being integrated into FloridaMakes' statewide manufacturing workforce development activities and monthly best practice calls.  In addition, FloridaMakes will assist the EDC with promotional activities and content associated with the organization's TeCMEN Industry Day - an event that has become the Gulf Coast region's premier one day technical expo.
Members in the News

On June 25 the HSU Educational Foundation hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony in tandem with the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce's Business After Hours event to unveil the new HSU Innovation Institute, a facility centered in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park, designed to inspire innovation among both the youth and professional community.

LandrumHR will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in August!  The company was founded by H. Britt Landrum, Jr. in 1970 as a personnel placement company, which quickly became the largest provider of staffing services in Northwest Florida.  Years later the company expanded into employee leasing and the Professional Employer Organization space and is now a nationwide human capital service provider.

Congratulations to Fort Walton Machining and MAG Aerospace for being announced as  finalists for the 2020 Florida Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Awards!  With 2 of the 10 statewide finalists being from Fort Walton Beach, we couldn't be prouder!

Welcome New Members

COVID-19 Business Resource Guide

Business owners and managers have access to relevant and current business resources on the EDC website's Business Resource Guide.    Click Here for business assistance resources.

Current Topics Blog

If you would like more insight on hot topics, visit the EDC's blog written by Kelly Murphy-Redd, CEcD.  You'll find topics such as Incubators and Accelerators, Retiring Military, Talent Attraction, Hypersonic Weapons, and more!

Click here to read the EDC Blog
EDC Executive Committee Members and Staff

Katie Sharon, Chairman; Lee Lewis, Vice Chairman/Treasurer; Leslie Sheekley, Secretary/Member-at-Large; Glenn Scharf, Past Chairman

Ex Officios
CareerSource: Michelle Burns
County Commissioner: Trey Goodwin
Educational Partners: Dr. Devin Stephenson, Dr. Melinda Bowers, Mr. Marcus Chambers
Utility Partners: Steve Rhodes, Gordon King, Bernard Johnson

Employees / Contractors
Nathan Sparks CEcD, Executive Director
Kay Rasmussen CEcD, Associate Director / DSI Manager
Kevin Lovelace, Director Business Expansion
Rachel Flannery, Administrative Assistant
Linda Sumblin, TeCMEN Manager/Consultant
Monica Early, TeCMEN Industry Day Coordinator
Sal Nodjomian, TCPI Consultant
Roxanna Reece, Accounting
The EDC is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit organization.