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September 2020

From the Director's Desk

By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
     With October being designated "Manufacturing Month" in Florida, it is the perfect time to reflect on the value of the manufacturing sector to our local economy. While virtually everyone knows of our community's stellar tourism assets, less known is Okaloosa's manufacturing sector - a sector that is comprised of 212 businesses employing more than 3,200 individuals in the local area, many with advanced technical skills that were attained through the military, as well as through our dynamic cadre of educational partners offering customized programs and certifications.

     Recent weeks have brought welcome news for Okaloosa's manufacturing sector, as both Fort Walton Machining and MAG Aerospace were selected as two of only ten statewide finalists for the prestigious Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence (SMBE) Awards. Having two finalists from our local area - both of whom are EDC Trustee level investors - is definitely something to celebrate!

     Fort Walton Machining, owned by the McDonald family, was formed in 1987 as a custom manufacturing operation serving Eglin Air Force Base. A contract manufacturer with an impressive list of "who's who" customers including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin among others, Fort Walton Machining employees more than 150 in the local area, many of whom gained valuable skills through participating in the company's apprenticeship program.

     Though much newer to the area, MAG Aerospace is also a force to be reckoned with. The Virginia-based company opened their 25,000 SF Technology Integration and Support Center (TISC) in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park in 2019 and has continued to expand since that time. The TISC - also known as the Col. John T. Carney Center of Excellence - was purposefully designed to foster dynamic interface between MAG personnel and AFSOC, a key customer.

     Another local manufacturer making headlines in the past month is American Elite Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Governor Ron DeSantis recently joined local elected leaders and company officials in announcing that American Elite PPE would be locating a new facility in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park that will employ 50 individuals. The company will pay an average wage that will be 115% of Okaloosa's current average and will produce melt blown polypropylene filter material for use in facemasks and medical gowns. Even more exciting - American Elite PPE will be one of only two companies making this critical product in the entire country!

     To Fort Walton Machining, MAG Aerospace and American Elite PPE - and to all the innovative Okaloosa manufacturers out there - we say bravo!
Defense Support Initiatives, DSI

By Bob Marinan, Chairman
     Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who helped support our efforts to get an extension to the 2022 Military Mission Line moratorium preventing oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf which houses the largest military test and training range in the continental U.S. On 8 Sept 2020 President Trump signed the Executive Order extending the moratorium out to 30 June 2032 giving us more time to seek the permanent legislation required to protect our military mission and our Florida beaches.
     Special thanks go LTG (Ret) Gordy Fornell, Col (Ret) Jim Heald and Ms. Kay Rasmussen for their tireless efforts in writing letters, making calls and writing editorials soliciting the Senate, Congressional and Governor support required to attain the President's signature.
     As we prepare to begin our 2021 fiscal year in October, there are still issues remaining to be worked. Primarily, support for continued funding of the Gulf Range Enhancement Plan required for the Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range to support 5th Generation platforms and weapons currently being developed and produced. Also, to continue to build support for Eglin's NexGen Whole Facility Repair by Replacement Plan for the antiquated and/or lack of proper facilities to meet today's mission requirements.
    Ongoing diversity and inclusion discussions continue to identify and understand any discrimination impacts that may be in our area. LTG Slife at Hurlburt Field has released a video series addressing racism and how different people's perspectives can be. The video session series is focused on Listen -- Learn -- Lead. HQAF is also providing unconscious bias training, and sharing challenges from other duty stations for situational awareness. This is not an easy nor short-term problem to solve but will require constant awareness by everyone.
     The DSI welcomes Congressman Gaetz's new local Director of Military Affairs, Scott Davidson, who is replacing Nate Nelson. Thank you, Nate, for all your support and contributions, and all the best in your future endeavors.
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network

By David Haines, Chairman

     TeCMEN members had another great virtual meeting this month and here are some of the salient highlights:
    Tony Gannon, Space Florida discussed their upcoming "Florida Venture Forum-the capital acceleration program", a Webinar scheduled for Oct 14 & 15.  As an early stage capital conference, Florida companies may submit their Applications to;
      A host of investors from Florida and other USA locations will also be participating. The 2020 Early Stage Capital Conference will be in a virtual format so viewers can pick and choose which sessions are of interest to them.  The conference will offer select company presentations, breakout informative sessions, one-on-one meetings between companies and investors, and more.  The conference also will feature the 10th annual Statewide Collegiate Start-up Competition, attracting the "best of the best" competitors, representing Florida's major colleges and universities
    Mike Aller of Florida Makes presented their Connex Florida; Florida's Supply Chain Solution. FloridaMakes in partnership with the Associated Industries of Florida and Space Florida have built Connex Florida. A supply chain database tool for the manufacturing industry in Florida. This tool contains in-depth information on a broad range of Florida manufacturers, along with detailed search functions to highlight specific production capabilities, certifications, equipment, material types, and more.  The purpose of this tool is to help Florida manufacturers better connect with each other, be discovered, and increase business opportunities. 
     This is my last month having the honor to serve as TeCMEN Chairman.  Much appreciation is extended to all who contribute to TeCMEN's continuing success and our growing prosperity.
Business Expansion

By Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Expansion

     In June 2020, we reported a cautious optimism among Okaloosa industries as we adapt to the ever-changing COVID environment.  That cautious optimism continues to manifest itself with new companies choosing a location in Okaloosa County home, such as American Elite PPE and Verus Health Partners.  Welcome to Okaloosa County!
     Project activity for 2020 continues to remain robust despite the pandemic, with companies from many industries expressing interest in Okaloosa County and several companies visiting Okaloosa Industrial Air Park, Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park, and Shoal River Ranch Gigasite.  These sites offer prospective companies a variety of options, from existing buildings, to greenfield sites, and even a 30 acre, build-to-suit site with direct 8,000' runway access to Bob Sikes Airport.
     With a strong foundation of diverse industries, business-oriented government, a pipeline of exciting projects, and a potential labor pool of over 1,300 transitioning military members annually, a military and veteran workforce of over 26,000, Okaloosa County remains a top location for business in Northwest Florida and the United States.

Available Building Spotlight

Bob Sikes Airport 19,600 sq. ft. Hangar Leasing Opportunity
Building Features
  • NFPA 409 Group II Hangar
  • Two 28' x 100' electric doors
  • 1,600 Sq. Ft. of 2-story office/meeting space
  • High-intensity fluorescent lighting
  • Fully sprinklered
  • 4 Big Ass Fans
  • Suspended gas heaters
  • Exhaust fans
  • Emergency generator
  • Fire alarm system
  • Men's & Women's restrooms
  • Shower facility
Site Features
  • Direct connection to 8,006' runway at ARC C-IV Airport
  • 2.04-acre leasehold
  • Asphalt apron along entire building
  • Adjoins 100,000 Sq. Ft. apron capable of accommodating up to a B-767
  • Adjoining land available for expansion
  • Direct industrial road access to State Hwy 90
Click  here for additional information.

School Cents Makes Sense

By Michelle Anchors
     The economic prosperity of Okaloosa County can be negatively affected by events that are not within local control, such as natural disasters, oil spills, and even a global pandemic.  Is there any factor in our control that could positively affect our economic growth?  The answer is yes -- strong public education.  Most local businesses seek a ready workforce of residents who have received a solid education.  Most employees with children decide where they want to live based on the quality of the local public schools. 
     Economic growth is directly tied to the success of our local public education system, which is dependent in large part on our teachers.  Teachers will tell you that their effectiveness is dependent, in large part, on the strength, stability, and safety of the buildings where they teach.  In Okaloosa County, these buildings are seriously deteriorating due to a lack of adequate funding for infrastructure.   Leaking roofs are causing mold.  Heating and air conditioning systems are failing. Aging temporary portables have become permanent classrooms. 
     The exciting reality is that we have the option of seeing improvements in every single school in Okaloosa County.  On November 3, 2020, Okaloosa County voters will decide whether to support a half-cent sales tax to be used exclusively for capital needs such as repairs to school buildings, safety improvements, replacing the oldest bus fleet in the State of Florida, and technology upgrades.  The tax is estimated to bring in approximately $23 million annually and will remain in place for ten years, with over half of the proceeds coming from tourists who visit our area seasonally. 
     Okaloosa County has not had a school sales tax in place for over twenty years.  During that time, neighboring counties have far surpassed us in the amount of money spent on capital needs.  The average per student spending on capital needs in Florida for 2017-18 was over $800. In Walton County, the average was $3,281.00.  In Okaloosa County, the average was $237.00. We cannot invest in our schools at far below the average rate and expect continued above average results. 
     The voters of Okaloosa County are generally considered fiscally conservative, but they recognize that supporting public education is one of the most fundamental roles of limited government.  The Republican Women of Okaloosa Federated have endorsed the half-cent tax, along with all of the Chambers of Commerce in Okaloosa County, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, and the Building Industry Association.  A political action committee known as School Cents Makes Sense, Inc. consists of private sector business leaders from all parts of Okaloosa County who are spearheading the campaign.
     To ensure transparency and accountability, each Chamber of Commerce will recommend one person to serve on a volunteer Citizens Advisory Committee, which will monitor the spending and the projects to ensure that the money goes to the priorities of each school.  A list of those projects and more information about the half-cent proposal can be found at  We have not had a sales tax to benefit schools in over twenty years.  If you want to strengthen our local economy, then cast your vote to strengthen schools and vote yes on the half-cent sales tax, because School Cents Makes Sense!
Members in the News

Warren Averett, LLC has announced that Kevin Bowyer, the Firm's Destin Office Managing Member, recently earned the Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE) certification.
The CDPSE certification is the first experience-based, technical certification of its kind. CDPSE assesses a technology professional's ability to implement privacy by design to enable organizations to enhance privacy technology platforms and products that provide benefits to consumers, build trust and advance data privacy.

Fort Walton Beach Medical Center has announced  their expansion project update. 
The Medical Center will begin construction of the hospital's $80 million expansion and renovation project in January 2021.  The project is planned to be completed in three phases.

The HSU Educational Foundation has partnered with the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The team has launched a research partnership to develop the HSU Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence in Okaloosa County.  The HSU Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence development is aimed at creating a highly trained and certified UAS workforce, and providing UAS research, development, and testing of unmanned aircraft, sensors, and related technologies for industry partners. 

American Elite Molding formed a new company to begin U.S. production of the required filter material for personal protective equipment; American Elite PPE.  American Elite PPE will manufacture the critical filter medium used in medical grade face masks and gowns at its Fort Walton Beach facility.

Florida Trend magazine has named Florida's 500 Most Influential Business Leaders for 2020. Florida Trend's Florida 500™ lists the most influential executives in different economic sectors throughout Florida.  Congratulations to EDC Members:
  • Kevin Carr, FloridaMakes
  • Dr. Paul Hsu, Hsu Educational Foundation (Past EDC Chair)
  • Steve Riggs, Carr Riggs & Ingram (Past EDC Chair)
  • Marlene Santos, Gulf Power Company
  • Bob Sires, American Elite Molding
  • Dr. Martha Saunders, University of West Florida
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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.