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June 2021
From the Director's Desk
By Nathan Sparks, CEcD

What a difference a year can make! This time last year, Okaloosa County was reeling from the economic fallout of COVID-19. Nearly 13,000 people were out of work, and our county’s unemployment rate was an eye popping 13.7% - a number not experienced during the Great Recession or in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fast forward to today. Okaloosa’s unemployment rate sits at 3.7%, currently the third lowest among Florida’s 67 counties, and the number of unemployed individuals in our county is 3,712. Companies of all stripes are hiring – with many offering signing bonuses and other inducements.

As I write this, Okaloosa’s roads, hotels, condos, restaurants and beaches are literally overflowing with out-of-state visitors, many eager to spend what remains of their mid-year financial windfall (aka Federal stimulus money) during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. In speaking with a local hotelier, I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard what a single room is commanding in the current market. It seems that those who weren’t so fortunate as to live in a place with a common sense approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic have emerged from their bunkers flush with cash after a year of hunkering down, eating in and watching Netflix. And for the sake of Okaloosa’s hospitality sector – second only to the defense sector in terms of local economic impact – thank goodness for that!

Florida as a whole has fared far better than projected too. In fact, what was initially expected to be a financially austere Legislative session in Tallahassee - with some early projections of a $4 billion revenue shortfall due to COVID sales tax impacts – somehow morphed into the passage of $101.5 billion budget, the state’s largest in history. Of course, Governor DeSantis will still have the opportunity to wield the veto pen over the coming weeks, but no one expects him to do anything akin to the “Great Veto of 2020”, when he slashed $1 billion as coronavirus uncertainty loomed large.

Unfortunately the improved state financial picture seemed to take some wind out of the sails of efforts to rethink Florida’s economic development toolkit. Specifically, reauthorization of Florida’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) tax refund program (a performance-based program that incentivizes the creation of high quality, high wage jobs in highly valued targeted industries) fell flat. Likewise, the Jobs Growth Grant Fund failed to receive additional funding, and Enterprise Florida (Florida’s public-private economic development agency) wasn’t appropriated the $5 million in marketing dollars that Governor DeSantis had initially requested. There were some bright spots, however, such as the reauthorization of the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund (removing the June 30, 2021 sunset date) and passage of the Purple Star Campus legislation cosponsored by our own Representative Patt Maney. Assuming the Governor signs the latter, public and private Florida schools that go “above and beyond” to welcome and support military families will have the opportunity to receive some deserved recognition. Certainly, all Okaloosa schools would be well advised to consider pursuing this!
Defense Support Initiatives
By Bob Marinan, Chairman

The DSI is currently involved in making the appropriate connections with our Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen regarding our top military issues that require FY22 appropriations. To date, we have talked with the offices of Senator Rubio and Senator Scott, Congressmen Gaetz, Dunn, Mario Diaz-Balart, Franklin and Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz. Our legislative focus is to support the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range maximization plan, support Eglin’s next generation whole facility repair by replacement plan, support construction of a childcare development center, and fund construction of NAS Whiting Field’s north tower—which now has been approved. The legislative mark-ups are expected in September 2021.
In April our Washington D.C. point of contact, Mr. Greg Kiley, provided us with a federal overview of the current status in DC with the Biden administration in charge. He reported that the two main focal points of the administration is COVID relief and the Human infrastructure. He also shared that the F-35 program is receiving budget hits due to reoccurring problems and its high budget ticket. Mr. Kiley was a keynote speaker at April’s TeCMEN Industry Day.
Eglin AFB has received two F-15EX for both development and operational testing to be accomplished here locally. The current airport Joint Use Agreement (JUA) between Okaloosa County and Eglin AFB is about to expire and has been under review. This JUA is required for our commercial flights’ continued utilization of Eglin AFB’s runway. An agreement was reached Friday, 21 May. Congrats to both sides!
Items around the community include the proposed, and much needed, WellPlex child care development center in the Crestview area. The project continues to move forward with blueprints being developed to accommodate 500 children. The Veterans Lodge in DeFuniak Springs is nearing completion and will prioritize hiring military veterans.
Summer is the usual timeframe for military change of duty and both the 7 Special Forces Group and the 919th at Duke will celebrate Change of Commands next month. Much appreciation to all our military commanders for their continued service and community comradery. 
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Jason Monroe, Chairman

Another TeCMEN Industry Day is in the books and the 2021 TID was especially notable. We had a large attendance this year, great speakers, and wonderful exhibitors. We had insights and updates from Washington D.C., learned about the Bronco II aircraft, explored CMMC compliance with a panel of experts, and much more. One of the greatest things about the TeCMEN Industry Day in 2021 was, without a doubt, the return to normalcy; yes, we still had to wear masks and ‘maintain social distancing’, but there was an excitement to being back in person. From the TeCMEN staff to our sponsors and exhibitors, we had a very successful in-person expo.

Beyond the TeCMEN Industry Day, there are advances being made, every month, within the TeCMEN group. We are working closely with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to ensure that our Florida government contractors are prepared for any compliance requirements that comes down from the federal government. TeCMEN has led the way locally and FLDEO has stated that our slice of Florida is further along than most of our counterparts across the rest of the state when it comes to communicating and advocating compliance readiness with our member companies.

Watch for more updates from your One Okaloosa EDC!
Business Expansion and Support Team
By Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success

BEST 2021
The Business Expansion and Support Team 2021 survey is in its final phases, completing our second year engaging leaders from Okaloosa’s technical sector on their outlook on the market, business, workforce, and the legislative ecosystem. While COVID had serious implications for the restaurant and hospitality industries in Okaloosa County, the companies surveyed in the manufacturing, engineering, information technology, and aerospace/defense industry sectors fared reasonable well, with many being classified as “essential industries”.
While most companies had grown in the last year and over ¾ have plans to expand, most do not have any plans for adding space. Of the 43% that have altered space strategies due to COVID, that majority of those are keeping their existing space as it is, while adopting work-from-home models or hybrids of home-office balancing. Companies with hands-on manufacturing or highly collaborative cultures were significantly less likely to adopt work-from-home models, although some allowed departments within the company, such as HR, finance, and accounting a choice of location or a hybrid of both.
Workforce availability is the largest concern of businesses in Okaloosa County, with 90% of those surveyed having difficulty recruiting for a particular job or skill set. As a result, One Okaloosa EDC will be scheduling an in-depth review meeting with our BEST Committee (including workforce and educational partners) in June and publishing a BEST 2020-2021 Summary Report for Okaloosa elected leaders in July. Moving forward, One Okaloosa will be seeking to institutionalize the BEST process for continued and regular interface. The ultimate goal is the development of a comprehensive set of industry support strategies that correspond to the needs – and opportunities – that have been voiced.

This effort could not be undertaken without the support of our local industries, our workforce development partners, and our utility partners that assisted One Okaloosa EDC with the BEST 2021 survey. Thank you so much for your assistance, flexibility, and dedication to making Okaloosa County a great place to do business!
Members in the News
The University of West Florida has been recognized as a Military Friendly Spouse School in the large public school category for 2021-2022. The Military Friendly Spouse Schools list provides a comprehensive guide for military spouses looking to further their education. The Military Friendly® ratings program was started in 2003 as an advocacy vehicle to encourage civilian organizations to invest in programs to recruit, retain and advance veterans as employees, entrepreneurs and students. 
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Current Topics Blog
If you would like more insight on hot topics, visit One Okaloosa's blog written by Kelly Murphy-Redd, CEcD. You'll find topics such as Incubators and Accelerators, Retiring Military, Talent Attraction, Hypersonic Weapons, and much more!

Executive Committee Members and Staff
Lee Lewis, Chairman; Leslie Sheekley, Vice Chairman/Treasurer; Jillian McQueen, Secretary; Chad Vuyovich, Member-at-Large; Katie Sharon, Past Chairman

Ex Officios
CareerSource: Michelle Burns
County Commissioner: Nathan Boyles
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 of Business Success
Linda Sumblin, TeCMEN Manager
Monica Early, TeCMEN Industry Day Coordinator
Sal Nodjomian, TCPI Consultant
Penny Mercer, Accounting Department
Post Office Box 4097
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549