Region has chance to redefine itself
Oct. 1, 2013
...SANDESTIN, Fla. -- Workforce training was the most consistent theme during the
opening day of an economic development symposium in Northwest Florida, but the vision
of a region on the cusp of change might have been the most compelling message.
...“Northwest Florida, you have an opportunity to completely redefine yourself,” said Will
Weatherford, speaker of the Florida House. Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) said
Northwest Florida could be a leader in economic development in part by addressing the
needs of businesses.
...“The education system in Florida is too disconnected from our economy,” said Don
Gaetz, president of the Florida Senate. Gaetz (R-Niceville) said Northwest Florida can
“lash its education system and training to the realities and opportunities of this emerging
...Weatherford and Gaetz were just two of the speakers Monday at the two-day 17th
annual Gulf Power Economic Symposium, “Building the Future.” The symposium attracted
a record crowd of nearly 600 movers and shakers to the Sandestin Resort. The event
continues Tuesday.
...“I liked the phrase lashing the education and training system to the realities and
opportunities of the emerging economy,” said Stan Connelly, president and CEO of Gulf
Power, “and I can tell you there’s an emerging economy happening in our area.”
...He said aerospace businesses have been successful in Northwest Florida for a long
time, “and we’re proud of that and will continue to talk about it.” But that long tradition in
aerospace is being enhanced by what’s happening to the west in Mobile, Ala.
...Indeed, one of the most significant economic development issues for Northwest Florida
is occurring outside the state. To the west of the Florida-Alabama state line Airbus is
building a $600 million A320 final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex. It will eventually
employ about 1,000 people and will have an impact on an area well beyond Mobile
through a supplier network.
...“That town is reinventing itself in some ways,” said Connelly, adding that there’s no
better example in the Southeast. “We have a real opportunity right here … to be a partner
in that redefinition,” he said.
...Michelle Hurdle, director of economic and community development for Airbus Americas
Inc., said Northwest Florida communities that want to compete for European parts and
service supplies must improve workforce training and have industrial commerce park sites
ready for occupancy. She said many of the parts and service suppliers will locate within
150 miles of the Mobile plant.
...One of the first speakers at the symposium was Gov. Rick  Scott.
...“There is no community in the country that should do better than us,” said Scott,
pointing out that Florida has no income tax, is a right to work state and has low business
taxes. He said he believes no place in the world is better positioned for job growth.
...Melissa Medley, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Enterprise Florida,
said Northwest Florida is poised to be as competitive as any other part of the state.
...“If we’re not out telling our story, that gap will be filled by someone else’s story.”
...Rick Harper of the Office of Economic Development and Engagement at the University
of West Florida, said training a workforce will be key to Florida moving ahead of
competing Southeastern states. -
David Tortorano, GCAC, 10/1/13