The West Florida Regional Planning Council (WFRPC) on Wednesday released the 2018-2022 draft of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and is inviting the public to comment on the proposal.

The CEDS is a five-year strategy to guide activity and investment to support economic growth in the WFRPC region, which is comprised of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, and Bay counties.

WFRPC states the strategy is designed to guide economic growth by fostering a more stable and diversified economy, assist in the creation of jobs, and improve the living conditions in the region by coordinating the efforts of individuals, organizations, local governments, and private industry concerned with economic development.

The 20-member steering committee includes Vernon City Clerk Michelle Cook, Ponce de Leon Town Council member George Robertson, Ted Everett of the Washington County Economic Development Council, and Raymon Thomas of the Holmes County Economic Development Council

“What it boils down to is we have to figure out how to get people where they need to be," said one Steering Committee member.

West Florida contains approximately 5% of the state of Florida’s population at 953,770. The region’s population has increased by 20% since 1990 with a net migration of 11,800 people in 2016.

The 79 Corridor project in Holmes and Washington counties and growth at the Holmes County Industrial Park East are named among the strategy's "projects to watch."

The 79 Corridor Authority is a new interlocal planning district for a 1,500-acre commercial/industrial development area along State Road 79. WFRPC states its role is to assist in unified land development code amendments and development application processes for the overlay.

Holmes County Industrial Park East is pursuing a differentiation as the "Green Gateway" to West Florida by targeting companies interested in sustainability and work toward green certifications in buildings and manufacturing components. Infrastructure costs are approximately $9 million.

WFRPC noted the region's strengths include:

• Natural amenities such as beaches and a lifestyle "attractive to all age groups and demographics"

• Research and development associated with the region’s military installations

• Supportive business climate for licensing, permitting, zoning, taxes, and regulation

• Strong regional cooperation

• A consortium of high quality post-secondary educational institutions

• Capable regional economic development organizations led by Florida’s Great Northwest and Opportunity Florida

• An emerging ecosystem of entrepreneurial programs, assets, and networks

• Areas of affordable rural land available for industrial/commercial development

• Transportation infrastructure, including Interstate 10, three commercial airports, two deep water seaports, and CSX rail

Among identified weaknesses are:

• Difficulty in attracting skilled talent to fill certain positions

• Regional prevailing wages are not competitive with other regions

• While improving, the region still lacks many urban amenities sought by younger professionals

• Lack of vibrant industry clusters with supply chains

• Lack of affordable workforce housing in certain areas and especially city centers

• Deficiency of industrial sites and buildings, especially in rural areas

• Limited access to startup capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses and lack of a formal process to obtain funding Generational pockets of poverty in some counties, especially in predominantly minority communities

• Limited access points in transportation infrastructure

• Lack of a region-wide transportation mobility system

• Limited/antiquated wastewater infrastructure

• Declining population, workforce, and tax base in rural areas

• Insufficient funding for workforce development and training

• Lack of funding for rural real estate product development and marketing

• Early childhood education

The complete 89-page draft can be viewed by visiting http://www.wfrpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/DRAFT-Final-CEDs-Document-5.pdf

The public is asked to submit input to Caitlin Cerame by emailing caitlin.cerame@wfrpc.org before Dec. 29.

http://www.wfrpc.org/programs/comprehensive-economic-development-strategy

http://www.wfrpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/DRAFT-Final-CEDs-Document-5.pdf