By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
Executive Director of One Okaloosa EDC
While the true start of summer may still be a few weeks away, it only requires a visit to one of our local eateries, a stroll on our beaches or a short drive down Highway 98 to confirm that summer is already in full swing. Here at One Okaloosa EDC, spring went by in the blink of an eye but left many good memories and new opportunities in its wake. Since my last “Director’s Desk” piece in March, One Okaloosa hosted our 5th annual Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network Industry Day (TID) at the Destin Fort Walton Beach Convention Center on April 26. Thanks to the support of our 17 event sponsors and the tireless dedication of our staff and TID Planning Committee, this was easily our best one yet. All told, the 5th iteration of TeCMEN Industry Day featured 23 speakers / panelists, showcased 51 exhibitor booths, and welcomed 366 total attendees. Thanks to support from the HSU Educational Foundation, 42 of our 366 attendees were School Ambassadors representing Okaloosa County School District and Rocky Bayou Christian School.
As if all the positive momentum generated by a successful TeCMEN Industry Day was not enough, a May 18 visit by Governor DeSantis to personally award Okaloosa County a $3.2 million grant from the Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund provided even more reason for celebration. These funds will be combined with funds from the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners and Triumph Gulf Coast to make significant site improvements at the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite, setting the stage for game changing economic development to occur. In addressing the crowd in Crestview, Governor DeSantis said “Today’s grant will lay the foundation for a dramatic expansion of manufacturing in Okaloosa County”. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. (See article on page 3 for more info).
Lastly, many of you know that we utilize objective, third party rankings to gauge how our local economy is faring overall. One of those is the “Best Performing Cities” list compiled by the Milken Institute. Milken’s 2022 Best Performing Cities list was recently released, and the Crestview-Destin-Fort Walton Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) clocked in at #29 in the nation on Milken’s “Large Cities” list. While we were down one spot from last year, we remain the highest ranked Northwest Florida MSA on the list. We also outrank some pretty heady competition – including Charlotte (#31), San Diego (#42), Orlando (#57), Miami (#98), Birmingham (#104) and Mobile (#122). Not to say there aren’t reasons for concern, however. In particular, we have work to do in the areas of Housing Affordability (#155) and Broadband Access (#182) – thankfully, two areas where renewed community-wide efforts are underway.