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December 2020
From the Director's Desk
By Nathan Sparks, CEcD

   Last December I devoted this space to a recap of some of the more noteworthy economic development-related developments that had occurred in Okaloosa County over the past year. I’m shooting for a command performance here. “A recap of 2020?! Who wants to remember that?” you might be thinking. Admittedly, I too was skeptical. But when all is said and done, I think this quick trip down memory lane will showcase that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our community continued to innovate, collaborate and achieve!

2020 kicked off with a ribbon cutting in January for the Home Builder’s Institute (HBI) Construction Trades Training Program at Northwest Florida State College, designed to provide veterans with essential skills in this rapidly growing sector. Fast forward to April, when the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering announced the establishment of its second Innovation Station at the UF REEF in Shalimar. May saw Okaloosa take to the skies, as LEIDOS and Vertex Aerospace announced that the Bronco II special mission aircraft would be assembled in Crestview – the first full airframe to be manufactured in northwest Florida. In June, the sparkling HSU Innovation Institute was unveiled in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park. Also in June, the EDC and FloridaMakes (a statewide manufacturing support entity) signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing direct benefit to manufacturers participating in the EDC’s TeCMEN Committee.

In July, the EDC launched the Startup Okaloosa on-line virtual incubator for the benefit of existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. The HSU Educational Foundation was back with more good news in August, announcing a groundbreaking unmanned systems workforce development and research partnership with Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

September brought a hard fought victory for our military and tourism assets, as President Trump issued an Executive Order extending the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico until 2032. Next, more good news came when Governor Ron DeSantis, Enterprise Florida, the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, the City of Fort Walton Beach and EDC announced the successful recruitment of American Elite PPE to the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park, resulting in a commitment for 50 new jobs.

October was Manufacturing Appreciation Month, as signified by a Resolution of the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, and the community celebrated as two of our very own (Fort Walton Machining and MAG Aerospace) were recognized as statewide finalists for the prestigious Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Award. The month came to a close with a monumental announcement that two state-of-the-art research facilities – a cyberspace test group facility and an advanced munitions test complex – together totaling $107 million will be coming to Eglin Air Force Base.

November proved to be a very significant month for our collective future. First, Okaloosa’s local school sales tax referendum was front and center with voters ultimately passing the measure and providing much needed funding for school facility upgrades. Second, the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners closed on 588 acres of prime industrial land located within the 10,500 acre Shoal River Ranch Gigasite, thereby setting the stage for large scale, transformational economic development opportunities that value large footprint sites offering significant infrastructure and workforce advantages.

As we enter the final month of 2020, our organization has an exciting announcement to share regarding our name and brand going forward. The official press release is included in this newsletter, and know that as we reposition ourselves as “One Okaloosa”, we couldn’t be more honored to serve this great community!

Defense Support Initiatives
By Bob Marinan, Chairman

As we close out an extremely challenging 2020 calendar year, the DSI remains engaged on several fronts. One, is the ongoing Environmental Impact Study being conducted by the Air Force that proposes permanently moving the temporarily housed Tyndall F-22’s and T-38’s, a total of 48 aircraft, to Langley AFB, VA and replacing them with an additional 26 F-35’s to Eglin AFB. The schedule for these changes would begin in the summer of 2021 thru the fall of 2022.

Secondly, we remain engaged with the Air Force regarding the Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range Maximization Study. This focuses on the Range’s future mission requirements and recommended solutions for maximizing the use of the range and required instrumentation, and Electronic Warfare capabilities. While a Presidential Executive Order was execute in September extending the Military Mission Line moratorium for another ten years, Congressional legislation is still required to formally protect the national asset from oil drilling and related activities.

Rather than conduct our annual advocacy trip to Washington DC early next year, we are looking into doing a series of virtual forums to address our FY22 defense support funding requests. Meetings will be targeted with Congressional members and staffers regarding our tri-county defense issues.

The study of the Westside Expansion of Eglin AFB is underway. The assessment is addressing moving the Eglin AFB west gate further to the west near the University of Florida REEF and reconfiguration of the road infrastructure. These actions will increase military installation security and provide for new development opportunities.

The Air Force has awarded two major contracts at Eglin AFB targeting state-of-the-art technology facilities. One contract will complete construction of the Advanced Munitions Research Facility and the second will construct a new cyberspace test facility. Both construction efforts are projected to be completed by mid-2022.

In closing, tragically, the Navy lost two members of the NAS Whiting Field family in a single aircraft accident the end of October. Our deepest sympathies are extended to the NAS Whiting Commanding Officer and the whole Whiting family.

I wish everyone a very happy and healthy Holiday season!

Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Jason Monroe, Chairman

TeCMEN is back in person! We had a great turn-out for our October and November meetings. During our November meeting, we had a chance to hear a few great updates from our local organizations.

Marcus Chambers from the Okaloosa County School District gave us a great overview of the current state of our school system and some plans for upcoming planned projects using the newly funded sales tax revenue; we're expecting to see those aging buses replaced with new and shiny buses soon!

Mary Nutial from FloridaMakes provided an update and review of the Virtual Manufacturing Tours of MAG Aerospace and Fort Walton Machining. I personally attended these tours and was very impressed to see the internal workings of these great local businesses. It was the next best thing to being there in person.

TeCMEN Members also worked together to provide an appreciation event to first responders in late October. Diane Frazer from the Emerald Coast Science Center provided an update, on behalf of David Haines. This was the first event for first responders that TeCMEN Members have supported, and even though it rained during the event, the first responders enjoyed the free food and touring the Emerald Coast Science Center.

This is my first article and the second month to serve as the TeCMEN Chairman; I have big shoes to fill and I wanted to take a moment and thank FY2020 Chairman David Haines for keeping TeCMEN moving forward and adjusting on the fly over the past year; we didn't miss a beat. Thank you, David, for an amazing chairmanship.
Business Diversity Leads the Way
Place 2020 has been a year for all of us to adapt to the changing world we live in and the EDC is no exception. Utilizing various social media platforms and web-based communication tools, GoToMeeting specifically, we have adapted to the needs of today by hosting virtual meetings with multiple international, domestic, and local partners, existing industries, and prospective companies.
December 9th, we kick off One Okaloosa EDC's new quarterly professional webinar series with an outstanding discussion – Leading Through Chaos – Lessons from 2020. Sharing their perspectives and insights will be Dr. Devin Stephenson, President, Northwest Florida State College, John Hofstad, Okaloosa County Administrator, and Bob Sires, CEO/Owner of American Elite Molding in Crestview and American Elite PPE in Fort Walton Beach. You can see more information on the webinar and register here.

As project activity remains robust and diverse, this year’s Black Friday demonstrated the importance of adaptability: Adobe Analytics reported nearly $9 billion in 2020 consumer spending, a 22% increase over 2019. However, many stores noticed smaller crowds as consumers shifted to online purchases. Adaptability will continue to be the key as we move forward into 2021.
EDC Rebrands as One Okaloosa EDC
The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County (“EDC”) announced that, effective December 1, the organization will be known as One Okaloosa EDC. Along with the name change, a new organizational logo was unveiled. Stylized as a circle indicative of forward motion, the logo utilizes the organization’s long-standing gold, blue and green colors as a nod to the EDC’s 31 year history. Specific design elements within the new logo include a gear, representing Okaloosa’s diverse industry base; the sun, representing the area’s enviable coastal lifestyle; and an atom, representing the community’s emphasis on education and noteworthy research and innovation assets. 

Along with the new name and brand, the organization will also begin utilizing as its primary domain name with new staff email addresses structured in the same manner. In addition, all other One Okaloosa EDC managed websites – including,,, and – have been updated accordingly.

“After 31 years of being known as the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, our Executive Committee began to evaluate the opportunity for a more simplified – and impactful – organizational brand last spring just as COVID-19 was tightening its grip on our area. Noting how swiftly our local governments, businesses, non-profits and everyday citizens joined together to help one another through the unprecedented challenges brought forth by the pandemic, it was clear that our community was rising to the occasion and working as ONE Okaloosa. This is where the concept was initially born,” stated Lee Lewis, AVCON, and One Okaloosa EDC FY 2021 Chairman.

“Along with being emblematic of the spirit of our community that has been on regular display during the pandemic, One Okaloosa speaks to a collective desire to be best-in-class and the tireless commitment of so many to ensuring that Okaloosa’s infrastructure systems, educational assets, military bases, workforce development programs and industrial sites are ranked number one. As we emerge from the pandemic and prepare to begin a new year, we feel these efforts have never been more important,” stated Nathan Sparks, Executive Director, One Okaloosa EDC.

The new brand is the culmination of many timely pivots and strategic initiatives the EDC has unveiled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other recently announced initiatives include the formation of a new partnership between the EDC’s TeCMEN (Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network) and FloridaMakes for the benefit of area manufacturers, the launch of the Startup Okaloosa virtual incubator ( in support of local entrepreneurs, and the rollout of a new quarterly professional development webinar series for the benefit of all Okaloosa businesses. 

Members in the News
Step One Automotive Group has officially opened their new state-of-the-art Subaru dealership in Fort Walton Beach. To commemorate the official grand opening, Step One hosted a Grand Opening event on October 22. Several local non-profit organizations were in attendance, and as part of Step One’s dedication to the environmental preservation and sustainability of our local community, $1,000 was donated to each local organization.
Welcome New Members
COVID-19 Business Resource Guide
Business managers, owners and associates have access to relevant and current COVID-19 business resources at the One Okaloosa EDC website Resource Guide. Click Here for business assistance resources.
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: 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 Success
Rachel Flannery, Administrative Assistant
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