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

The legislative season is upon us once again, and as lawmakers work to balance a wide range of competing priorities in Tallahassee, some encouraging signs are beginning to emerge regarding new life for Florida’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) tax refund program. In a nutshell, QTI is a performance-based incentive program that incentivizes the creation of high quality, high wage jobs in highly valued targeted industries by both new and existing Florida employers. Along with hiring a minimum number of new employees and operating within one of Florida’s targeted industry sectors, companies must pay at least 115% of a particular county’s average wage in order to receive a refund of certain taxes paid. In addition, and this is very important, refunds are only paid when company performance is verified through a rigorous demanding compliance process.

The QTI program has been the cornerstone of Florida’s economic development “tool kit” for 25 years – that is, until June 30, 2020 when the program was unceremoniously allowed to sunset. Since that time, other states have been using the expiration of Florida’s QTI program as a tool to dissuade businesses from locating or expanding in our state. The argument goes something like, “Do you really want to locate in a state that is systematically eliminating programs that provide value to businesses bringing forth new, high wage jobs? Why not instead locate in (insert state name here) where we actually value your contributions and remain firmly committed to the sustainment of programs that assist in your growth?” If that wasn’t bad enough, recent discussions with site selectors (hired consultants who advise businesses on future business locations) have even revealed that some of them view Florida’s failure to renew our tried and true QTI program as an official exodus from competitive business recruitment endeavors.

Of course, the world has changed markedly since the gavel fell on the 2020 Florida Legislative Session on March 13 of last year, with no action taken to renew the state’s QTI program. With such a large percentage of Florida’s economy directly tied to hospitality/tourism, our state’s economy took a literal kick to the gut as a result of COVID-19 and sales tax collections plummeted. Now, with the state legislature back in session, it appears that the presently mothballed QTI program may be reinstated after all. Two bills have been introduced that would serve to accomplish this by effectively removing the June 30, 2020 sunset date – Senate Bill 982 and House Bill 6071. As of the date of this writing, SB 982 has successfully passed two committees with NO dissenting votes. The bill is now waiting its turn in Senate Appropriations, and we encourage favorable consideration in order to ensure Florida’s future competitiveness.
Defense Support Initiatives
By Bob Marinan, Chairman

The DSI team received very sad news with the passing of longtime DSI member Jim Breitenfeld. Jim faithfully served the DSI from 2003 to 2021 and was a very strong advocate for the military communities via the Florida Defense Alliance, the Northwest Florida Defense Coalition and the Florida Defense Support Task Force. His contributions and leadership will be missed.
 
In continuing our military advocacy efforts, Col Kevin Osborne, Commander of the 96 Civil Engineering Group at Eglin AFB joined us at our March meeting. He provided an overview of Eglin’s legacy and view for the next generation of installation readiness and resiliency. The Eglin AFB future comprehensive redevelopment plan is a phased approach via 15 identified districts. The West Side Area Development is one component of the Installation Development Plan to provide new land development opportunities and improve critical traffic infrastructure. A 98-acre tech park Enhanced Use Lease is planned adjacent to the UF REEF and will be an integrated component of the West Side realignment initiative. In his short time at Eglin, Col Osborne has already demonstrated his intent to be as engaged as possible with community partners. 
 
In February, we had a presentation on the Eglin Westside Area Development Plan from Mr. John Hofstad, Okaloosa County Administrator. He gave us an update from the county perspective, sharing that the Environmental and Permit work are currently underway. The next step will be to engage Eglin and DOT officials for options to complete the work.
 
Mr. Brian Liesveld from the Doolittle Institute provided the DSI an overview on the DEFENSEWERX initiatives focused on a conceptual plan for a Defense Technology Innovation Center possibly developed adjacent to the UF REEF. It would focus on technology transfer and small business incubation activities.
 
The DSI has completed our legislative point paper and is prepared for the Washington DC Advocacy zoom-type calls. Our focus will once again be on a permanent moratorium for the Military Mission Line (MML), the Gulf Range Enhancement which will include upgrades to the Electronic Warfare Spectrum and the Next Generation Repair by Replacement for facilities at Eglin AFB. We have also started submitting our FY2022 NDAA budget request forms to respective Congressional Members. 
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Jason Monroe, Chairman

Wow! March is quickly coming to a close and the TeCMEN Industry Day is right around the corner. With the first quarter of 2021 ending soon, many of us are finding that business is good and COVID can't slow us down here in Okaloosa County; in fact, many of our TeCMEN members are hiring for highly skilled positions.

In addition to all of the growth in our local businesses and the massive amounts of tourists flowing back into our area, we are getting back to normal with an in-person TeCMEN Industry Day on April 14 at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center. We have close to 40 exhibitors, many of our local technical businesses and even a few from across the country, joining us during TID to wow us with their technology and innovative products. We've lined up multiple break-out sessions and panels to focus on CMMC, Perspectives from the Rocket City (that's Huntsville, AL), Industry Resiliency through Supplier Connections, Information on Bronco II (the NWF Purpose-Built Multi-Mission Aircraft), Views from the Hill (updates from D.C.), and how to cultivate talent through apprenticeships. I could go on and on, and on, and on; let's just put it this way, there's going to be more brainpower at this event than they had at Los Alamos (this may be an exaggeration, but just a little).

In summary, there are a lot of great things happening within TeCMEN and our members make it happen every day. We'd like you to join us at TeCMEN Industry Day on April 14. Register by April 4 at www.tecmenindustryday.com!
Business Expansion and Support Team
By Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success

BEST 2021
The Business Expansion and Support Team (BEST) 2021 initiative is wrapping up Phase I surveys, with Phase II having just begun. Phase I consists of companies within the Manufacturing, Information Technology, and Engineering industries that did not take part in the 2020 BEST survey. Phase II will be a follow-up for companies that participated in the 2020 initiative. Information collected from the BEST process will give One Okaloosa EDC a quantitative tool to measure the overall health of these vital sectors, as well as these businesses’ opinions on doing business in Okaloosa County. As part of One Okaloosa EDC’s strategic partnership with existing industry, the BEST Initiative is an active approach for assessing the market, business, workforce, and legislative outlook of local business leaders in Okaloosa County. Survey teams consisting of One Okaloosa EDC staff, workforce and education, and utility partners are conducting targeted, confidential surveys during the first half of 2021. Surveys have been taking place via GoToMeeting, on-site, or via teleconference, depending on the specific company safety protocols. Each survey takes no more than 30 minutes, unless survey participants would like to elaborate on a particular subject. If you have been contacted regarding the BEST 2021 survey, please consider participating. Your opinion is very important and can benefit the business environment for Okaloosa County.
Workforce Availability
2021 continues with several innovative workforce development concepts and partnerships! To engage our elementary school students in STEM activities, Okaloosa County Schools has implemented Kids’ C.O.D.E., a program designed to teach the critical thinking skills they will need in the Career and Technical Education courses available to them in Middle and High School. In addition, Northwest Florida State College and the HSU Educational Foundation have finished construction on their Aviation Center of Excellence at the Crestview Technology Air Park. The Aviation Center of Excellence is home for the Airframe and Powerplant program that will serve as a transformational catalyst for supporting the growing aviation and aerospace industries in Okaloosa County and Northwest Florida.
Project Activity
Project activity in Okaloosa County is at record levels, with 29 active and developmental projects, representing many different industries, with the potential for bringing over 8,500 jobs to Okaloosa County! This project activity is a perfect example of the outstanding partnerships that exist in Okaloosa County that will benefit our businesses, our communities, and our citizens.
Tri-County Community Partnership Initiative
By Kay Rasmussen, CEcD

Established as a facilitator to support innovative collaborations amongst local military installations and communities, the TCPI Advisory Board establishes targeted Work Groups and Ad Hoc Task Forces to support this mission and to help foster parameters for enhanced partnerships. Current standing Work Groups include Career Readiness Transition Assistance, Installation Resiliency, and Workforce Housing. Ad Hoc Task Forces include Cell Phone Reception and the newest addition, the Purple Star School Distinction.

As military families relocate into Florida’s communities, it is essential that our communities do everything possible to provide welcoming structures and dedicated support that help ease their transition. Representative Patt Maney is championing House Bill 429 to do just that. The Purple Star School designation program is intended to identify K-12 schools that go above and beyond in assisting military children transitioning into a new school community. Florida legislation, H.B. 429 and S.B. 938, are currently being considered to establish the Florida Purple Star School Distinction Program under the Florida Department of Education. Once passed, schools will be able to apply for the distinction which requires five distinct programs supporting the military child and their families. The TCPI PSS Task Force will assist local schools in the tri-county area identify potential gaps in qualifying programs, and will share best case examples for implementation. Collectively these actions will demonstrate the continued commitment and support provided to our military families.
Members in the News
Step One Automotive Group has announced that three of their dealers have been awarded CarGurus' Top Rated Dealer award! Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat Fort Walton Beach, ️ Volkswagen Fort Walton Beach and ️Buick GMC Cadillac Fort Walton Beach. This award has been given to only 16% of dealers nationwide! 

For the eleventh consecutive year, the magic at Bit-Wizards shone bright at the 2020 ADDY Awards. The American Advertising Federation (AAF) hosts a three-tiered national competition that begins at a regional level. Submissions include both internal marketing projects, external client campaigns, and pro-bono projects. This year, their team proudly brought home a total of 19 awards, including five Gold ADDYs, eleven Silver ADDYs, and all three Judge’s Choice Awards. 

Northwest Florida State College was recently named a 2021-2022 Military Friendly School with Bronze Distinction in the Small Public category by MilitaryFriendly.com. Schools are weighted according to six categories; military student support and retention, graduation and career outcomes, financial aid and loan repayment, culture and commitment, admissions and orientation, and academic policies and compliance.

The University of West Florida has been recognized as a Gold Level University in the large public school category in the annual Military Friendly Schools list for 2021-2022. UWF was the only large, public school in Florida to earn the Gold distinction for their success in helping veterans make the transition from the military to school, and ultimately rewarding careers in the civilian world.
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
Officers
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 Business Success
Lenaha Kidd, 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
850-362-6467