Sassano starting new phase of life
He’s been a part of region’s economic development effort for years, but he stepped
down from Florida’s Great Northwest to do work less demanding of his time...

Tom McLaughlin
February 2016

NICEVILLE, Fla. -- Looking back on 35 years in economic development work, Larry
Sassano said helping to create regional business strategies has been his most
rewarding work. But he announced in December that he planned to leave Florida’s
Great Northwest as president.

He last day at FGNW was Jan. 31.

“I was able to take the knowledge I got at the state and local organizations and apply
it at a regional level and have some affect,” Sassano said.

Sassano was hired in 2012 to the helm of Florida’s Great Northwest, which
coordinates business marketing and development for a 16-county region stretching
from Escambia to Jefferson counties.

That was the same year that aircraft production giant Airbus announced it would
build its first assembly plant on United States soil in Mobile, Ala., less than an hour
drive from Northwest Florida’s westernmost border.

Sassano and others in his field saw the potential to expand a commercial aviation
sector that has long been dwarfed by the vast military aviation complex in the region.

In his three years at Florida’s Great Northwest, the Panhandle has begun making a
name for itself in commercial aviation. Seven industrial airparks are now being
developed at or near air fields across the region, including Escambia County, Santa
Rosa County, Okaloosa County, two in Bay County, Leon County and Franklin
County.

Most feature direct airfield access. The businesses they attract perform such
services as maintenance and repair, or add new technologies, like aircraft erosion
prevention, to extend the lifetime of a commercial aircraft.

Thanks in large part to the existing aviation technologies already in the area, this
past quarter a group of investors interested in motorsports announced they were
looking at Northwest Florida as a possible site for automobile racing, high-end car
sales and vehicle development and testing.

During Sassano’s time as president of FGNW, an emphasis has been placed on
providing businesses looking to locate in Northwest Florida with shovel ready
locations verified by Gulf Power, the region’s primary energy provider, as Florida
First Sites.

And Sassano leaves as Northwest Florida prepares to enter an unprecedented era
for economic development. Eight of the 16 counties who are members of FGNW are
projected to receive $1.6 billion over the next 18 years to be used solely for the
diversification of the region’s economy.

Triumph Gulf Coast, a five-member board, has been chosen to oversee the dispersal
of the funds. Sassano wouldn’t rule out playing some role in the work that Triumph
Gulf Coast will do.

However, Sassano said he wants his next job to be part time, or at least significantly
fewer hours at the office than he spends now. In an email to his contacts, Sassano
said he is starting an advisory firm, L.S.A. LLC and will be working with associates.

Sassano’s career includes working for the Florida Department of Commerce for 13
years, and the Bay Economic Development Alliance for three years. He headed the
Okaloosa County Economic Development Council for 16 years before assuming the
presidency of FGNW.

Sassano is known throughout the state and beyond. He has helped to heighten
awareness of Northwest Florida through his many associations. He has been a
supporter of FGNW since its inception through his participation with the Marketing
and Executive Committees.

Under his leadership, FGNW has grown its membership base while continuing to
market and brand the region. He accomplished his goal of stabilizing the organization
and believes the time is right to move on.

An advisory group headed by Gray Swoope, a former Enterprise Florida CEO who
now heads VisionFirst Advisors, is working with FGNW to refine its mission and find a
replacement for Sassano.

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