From the Director's Desk
By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
"Unprecedented". "Unforeseen". "The new normal." Such words and expressions have been used ad nauseam since the COVID-19 crisis became the centerpiece of our very existence less than 30 days ago. Certainly, there is nothing in my lifetime - nor in that of my baby boomer parents - that compares to the global contagion that we're presently facing. As I write this, nearly 6,000 Floridians (including more than 40 individuals in Okaloosa County) are inflicted with this insidious virus that we've all been told is highly transmittable. (Wash your hands!)
But the sad fact is that by the time you read this, those numbers will have escalated - perhaps considerably. While the vast majority of those who contract the illness will eventually recover, certainly there are those who will perish - just as more than 5,000 Americans already have. And like any terrible virus or disease, Coronavirus doesn't discriminate based on status, class or celebrity.
As we now also know, this terrible global health crisis is also a global economic crisis of the highest order. We've all watched as stock markets have spiraled downward, feeling sick at the loss of household savings. Retirement. College funds. All of it impacted. For many of us, it has been eerily reminiscent of the Great Recession. For some, it feels worse.
Much in the same vein, we've seen businesses forced to close their doors. We silently wonder if many of them will reopen. We hear from friends who own businesses. We hear of their struggle to survive, to make rent, to keep their people employed - many of whom they view in the same way they view their own families. Some have said that the biggest challenge with this is that we really
don't know when it will end, or what the final outcome will be...nor do we have anything comparable in recent history to look to for clues.
Here's what I do know though. There is a close correlation between CRISIS and OPPORTUNITY. In fact (and perhaps ironically), in the Chinese language the word "crisis" is composed of two characters - one representing danger and the other representing opportunity. And, just as with other crises our nation has encountered, innovative and hard-working Americans are finding the
opportunity in the
crisis. In fact, just yesterday, I spoke with one of our local businesses that is finalizing plans to produce hand sanitizer. I know of another that is working on a respirator concept. And some restaurants have become makeshift neighborhood markets, selling produce, eggs and meat that they have on hand. Others have begun home delivery services.
Thankfully, too, considerable creative thought is also being applied to the world of business assistance programs and resources. Having witnessed several new programs being stood up in the last week alone, I would even go so far as to say that an awakening is occurring. Small business is being valued like never before, and it is EVERYONE's job to make sure this opportunity doesn't pass us by.
Defense Support Initiatives, DSI
By Bob Marinan, Chairman
I hope this finds everyone and their loved ones healthy and safe in these strange times. However, time marches on and we do the best we can with what we are able to do in support of our community and military mission. Both Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field are monitoring and have followed the advice being provided by our Governor, local communities and CDC while maintaining military readiness.
In DSI related news, our small contingent was able to travel to Washington DC the last week of February and met with targeted politicians and/or staffs to discuss our priorities and resultant impacts if not protected or funded. Our priorities included permanent/extension of the military mission line (MML) to prevent oil drilling in the Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range (EGTTR), increased funding to upgrade the EGTTR to support fifth generation aircraft training, and Eglin replacement of facilities to support future programs and the security required for those new programs. We met our goals and our sessions were very engaging and well received. We met with the staffs of Sen Scott, Sen Rubio and Sen Inhofe, Rep Gaetz and his staff, Rep Dunn and his staff, the staffs of Rep Wasserman Schultz, Rep Diaz-Balart and Senior Advisor to Department of Test & Evaluation, Mr. Bob Arnold. Following our meetings, Florida Senators introduced a 10-year extension of the MML moratorium protection tied to an energy bill and is now anticipated to be moved to a Parks/Land & Water conservation fund package. However, with the ongoing pandemic, no telling when the vote might take place. Suffice to say, the ongoing battle to maintain the MML is far from over. Future success will be determined by future votes in DC.
DoD is closing or downsizing 50 military clinics to retirees and families, including 12 on Air Force bases in a move the department says will increase the readiness of the operational and medical forces. Eglin AFB is currently not one of those designated for change and the Commander from the 96th Medical Group has outlined the reasons why, most significantly the size of our family and veteran community.
At our February meeting, Mr. Jeff Fanto, Chief Portfolio Optimization for Eglin AFB, briefed the DSI on the planned redevelopment of the West side (Shalimar) gate to improve access and security while improving current traffic flow. The county and the Air Force have a Memorandum of Agreement in place and anticipate contracting a feasibility study this summer.
As with other organizational meetings, our March meeting was cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions, and maintaining health and safety.
Technology Coast Manufacturing and Engineering Network; TeCMEN
By David Haines, Chairman
I was thinking in preparation for this article that I didn't want to write just another COVID-19 piece. Having said that, I think it's an impossibility to avoid the subject because it's fundamentally changed almost every part of our lives. For the purpose of this article, I will narrow the focus a bit to the changes I'm seeing the technology sector.
My company, like many local technology companies, is heavily invested in providing goods and services either directly or indirectly to the DOD. As such, we have been deemed "Critical Infrastructure" and have so far been insulated from the mandatory shutdowns plaguing the vacation industries. The stability the technology industries are providing local economies cannot be overstated during these trying times. So we are open but not without challenges to maintain "normal operations" as we have been requested.
Almost none of the companies I have spoken with were "prepared" for the level of actions required to deal with the virus. Early on companies had to answer questions like:
- How can we protect our employees? What if employees have no child care due to school shutdowns? How can we work together but maintain "social distancing"? How do we protect our vendors? How do we help employees that are dealing with associated anxiety? How can we maintain our current quotas and deliveries? What if an employee gets sick with a normal "run of the mill" cold? If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 how do we sanitize the workspace? If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 are we required to notify customers? What cleaning protocols do we enact? Where can we find the required personal protection equipment needed? If employees do contract COVID-19 how do we deal with the quarantine? What if an employee wants to self-quarantine? If the employee runs out of PTO, will they receive paid time off, or unpaid leave? Can employees work from home? What about the security of data as related to working from home? Etc. etc. etc.
Predictably, most of the proposed answers to the above questions lead to even more questions, resulting in sweeping fundamental changes in the daily business that many companies were not prepared to tackle. Turns out that more often than not in these situations, there is no right answer, you can turn left, you can turn right, and you still end up dealing with new problems born of the decisions made. So, what have companies done, mine included? We have done the best we can with the information we have been handed and rolled with the punches. Ultimately though, one valuable lesson has shone through. The companies that have been the most successful so far have given most the credit to their employees due to the spirit of teamwork, caring for each other and understanding toward management they have shown. So what is my prescription for business to survive this unpredictable and unprecedented challenge? To understand the utter importance of teamwork, compassion, and a desire to press through all adversity until we come out the other side of this storm.
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."
Tuesday, April 7, 2020 10:30AM
Join the Florida Chamber Small Business Council for a webinar featuring SBA Region IV Administrator Ashley Bell and SBA lenders as we answer your questions on the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Paycheck Protection Program and other financing.
In addition to the EDC COVID Resource page, there are other resources you may find valuable for your business:
Wednesday April 8, 2020 8:00AM to Tuesday, April 14, 2020 5:00OM
Gulf Power Northwest Florida Small Business COVID-19 Recovery Grant Program:
The window for submission of applications will open on April 8 at 8:00 AM, and will be closed on April 14 at 5:00 PM CST. Please ensure that you have submitted a COMPLETED application package before the deadline. Applications will be available for download beginning April 6, but PLEASE NOTE applications sent in before the April 8 start will not be reviewed.
Florida Small Business Development Center information on Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Loan Program, Emergency Bridge Loans, and other Assistance resources:
Employee Retention Tax Credit
FBI Announcement regarding cyber security
Gulf Power contributes $250K to Florida SBDC for small business grant relief program
The Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of West Florida (UWF) today launched
the Northwest Florida Small Business COVID-19 Recovery Grant Program to assist businesses across our communities impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The grant program was made possible by an initial contribution of $250,000 from Gulf Power through its economic development fund.
One important distinction to note is that this is a grant program versus a loan, which means that if approved, a small business will not need to pay back this assistance. The grant program will provide up to $5,000 to help offset losses that small businesses may currently be experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant applications will be accepted April 8-15, 2020, and are available for download at www.sbdc.uwf.edu.
Eligibility requirements include:
- 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.
- Eligible Northwest Florida counties include: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Jackson, Washington, Calhoun, and Bay.
- Must have 2 to 10 employees.
- Must have a demonstrated reduction in sales revenues of 25% or more due to the loss of business income related to COVID-19.
For more information about the program or assistance with completing the grant application, contact the Florida SBDC at UWF at 850-586-7802 or
Members in the News
Home Builders Institute in partnership with Northwest Florida State College, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and the Building Industry Association of Okaloosa & Walton Counties, Inc. hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house celebrating the newest skilled trades program launch at the NWFSC-based HBI Career Center on January 31. This new HBI program offers veteran service members dedicated, hands-on training in carpentry to pursue civilian careers in the skilled trades..
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
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
Nathan Sparks CEcD, Executive Director
Kay Rasmussen CEcD, Associate Director / DSI Manager
Kevin Lovelace, Director Business Expansion
Linda Sumblin, TeCMEN Manager/Consultant
Sal Nodjomian, TCPI Consultant
Roxanna Reece, Accounting