Check out what's happening in Okaloosa County, Florida
Where you can find superior lifestyle, leading technology and boundless opportunity!

June 2020

From the Director's Desk

By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
     "Time to Rally". It easily seems like a year ago that I read a piece with this title, but in actuality it wasn't even two months ago. The piece - written by Gannett's Presidents of News and Advertising - appeared in the Destin Log on March 18, just as the harsh realities of the Coronavirus pandemic were beginning to settle in. The intent of the article was to encourage folks to support small businesses, and kudos to the authors for recognizing early on just how painful the COVID-19 crisis would be - especially for small businesses. Since that time, various programs have been introduced to assist small businesses. Okaloosa County and the cities of Crestview, Destin and Fort Walton Beach have committed nearly $400,000 to fund small business grant programs. Certain EDC member businesses even contributed additional funds to that community's grant program once the City's initial $75,000 commitment was exhausted (here's looking at you, AA Tactical, CCB Bank, Cox Communications and Eglin Federal Credit Union!)

     Gulf Power, an ever-present community champion, also funded a $250,000 small business grant program in northwest Florida. Some 12 Okaloosa County businesses received $5,000 grants through this program and another $300,000 has now been committed. In addition, the Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida oversaw the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan process, which awarded loans up to $50,000 to eligible businesses. In total, 27 bridge loans were awarded in Okaloosa County for a total of $1,760,000. With the Payroll Protection Program forgivable loans available under the Federal CARES Act, local banks and CPAs have also been extremely busy working to assist Okaloosa businesses with securing these vital resources.

     Meanwhile, creative strategies for supporting local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic have been both numerous and well-received. From Cox offering free TV advertising to area restaurants, to the "Save Florida Business" gift card bond program benefiting small businesses, to Anchor Screen Printing's "Anchoring Okaloosa" t-shirt program supporting local businesses, to the effort by local chambers of commerce encouraging us all to "Spend Lokaloosa" - the we're all in this together mindset has been incredible.

     So what about help for all the individuals who have been laid off as a result of COVID-19? Just like our local governments and corporate partners, area churches and non-profits have been rising to the occasion. EDC investor United Way Emerald Coast (UWEC) was quick out of the gate establishing a COVID-19 Relief Fund which has raised o ver $276,000. These generous donations supported grants for nine local non-profit organizations. In addition, just last month, UWEC, distributed 150,000 pounds of food by hosting six mobile food pantries! According to UWEC CEO Kelly Jasen, many of the recipients were hardworking households who found themselves having to ask for help for the very first time.

     While the past couple of months have been challenging beyond imagination, seeing how our community has undertaken purposeful action in support of our businesses and citizens in need has been extremely gratifying. Let the rally continue!
Defense Support Initiatives, DSI

By Bob Marinan, Chairman
     After cancelling meetings in March & April, the DSI was able to meet virtually on 8 May.  We welcomed Mr. Lynn Dominique as our new Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee representative.  In turn, much appreciation was expressed for Bruce Marshall, USAF Colonel retired for his 13 years of service to the DSI.
     Like everyone else, COVID-19 has impacted everything we do and will do for the foreseeable future.  Some of the top issues facing our military and local community going forward are; PCS (military) moves on hold until 30 June, housing inventory being low, impacts on future budgets, and increased child care needs.  The Army has appropriated funding to support building a child care development center locally.
      The DSI, among other Florida groups, continue to petition the Senate for support on the extension of the Military Mission Line (MML) moratorium currently set to expire in 2022.  We continue to send letters to different Senators requesting support.  However, given the pandemic the issue continues to slide to the right and Senators Scott & Rubio haven't found an appropriate bill to attach this issue to yet.  Our fear is that after this year's Presidential election, support for the issue won't be as strong. 
     Unfortunately, here in mid-May, Eglin AFB has suffered two aircraft accidents within four days.  The first, was an F-22 that crashed on the range north of the base and four days later, an F-35 accident during a night landing.  Fortunately, both pilots escaped injury and accident boards have been convened .

Business  Expansion

     The Business Expansion and Support Team 2020 survey initiative is complete and the results are in!  Teams consisting of EDC staff, workforce and education, and utility partners conducted targeted, confidential surveys in 1Q 2020 to assess the market, business, workforce, and legislative outlook of local business leaders in Okaloosa County.  Companies in the survey are part of our manufacturing, engineering, information technology, and aerospace/defense industry sectors.
     While the survey was being conducted during the worsening COVID-19 crisis, many of the surveyed companies had been deemed essential and remained functioning, with varying degrees of operational impact and all necessary safety measures in place.
  The majority of business leaders surveyed believe that emerging new technology will continue to make an impact on new products, new product development, and new production processes.   These emerging technology trends will also have an impact on plans for expansion and employment needs within the next 3 years.
     In light of the COVID-19 crisis, as a follow-up to the BEST 2020 survey, we asked all survey participants on May 15 for their current opinion regarding their operations and outlook.  Follow-up survey respondents reported the COVID-19 impact on business operations, while maintaining a cautious optimism for the future.
New Grant Opportunity

EDC investor Gulf Power, in partnership with the small business development center at UWF, is sponsoring a second round of grants for small businesses across Northwest Florida.  This process will be very similar to the first round of grants with the exception that these funds will be available to companies with employee counts between 11 and 29 whereas the initial phase was only open to companies with 10 employees or less.  What was apparent during the first phase was that there were some mom and pop restaurants and a few other businesses that were just outside of the 10 employee threshold.  This process which includes an allocation of an additional $300,000 in available funds will benefit this group of companies.  Additional details regarding this offering are contained below.
Interested parties can download details on the program beginning today, June 1st via the SBDC's website at The SBDC at UWF will begin accepting applications June 8th.  
Program Details
Opening Date:             Monday, June 8, at 8:00am CST
Closing Date:             Friday, June 12 at 5:00pm CST.
Max Grant Amount:     $5,000 per Applicant or Business
Eligibility Requirements:
  • A for-profit, privately held small businesses established on, or before January 1, 2019.
  • Must maintain a place of business, including a physical location, within eligible Northwest Florida counties.
    • Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Jackson, Washington, Calhoun, and Bay.
  • Must have 11 to 29 employees.
  • Must have a demonstrated reduction in sales revenues of 25% or more due to the loss of business income related to COVID-19.
Members in the News

University of Florida's REEF will be home to UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering's Second Innovation Station in the State.  The University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering has announced the establishment of its second Innovation Station, UFIS at the REEF.  The new engineering extension program will leverage the infrastructure and resources af forded by the UF Research and Engineering Education Facility (REEF) while providing further expansion of community outreach and workforce development opportunities to Eglin AFB and the surrounding community.  

Manufacturing in the Panhandle

EDC Executive Director Nathan Sparks recently had the opportunity to appear on the national Advanced Manufacturing new podcast. To listen,  Click Here
Help Us Welcome Rachel Flannery

The EDC is pleased to introduce you to our newest team member and Administrative Assistant, Rachel Flannery.  Rachel is an Air Force veteran and military spouse with two daughters.  In her spare time she enjoys leading a military wives bible study and exploring wilderness trails with her family.
COVID-19 Business Resource Guide

Business owners and managers have access to relevant and current business resources on the EDC website.   Click Here
EDC Blog

If you would like more insight, 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; Ron Whitfield, Treasurer; Leslie Sheekly, 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.