The Washington County Chamber of Commerce hosted the fourth in a series of Economic Development Symposiums Thursday, Feb. 13 at the Panhandle Area Education Consortium (PAEC) in Chipley.
The previous three symposiums helped provide insight into how economic development works and identified Washington County’s needs, strengths and weakness. Economic Development Council Chair Terry Ellis opened the meeting, explaining this meeting was simply the next step on the path to a stronger local economy.
“We’re just putting the details together,” said Ellis, who serves as manager of West Point Home Inc. in Chipley. “Jobs represent opportunity, and the challenge is to forget about district lines and city limits and do this for our families.”
More than 30 participants, which included both business and government representatives, focused on three questions which were discussed and answered by groups in “break-away” sessions: What existing assets do we have that can be used to stimulate economic development? How can we enhance those assets to improve their marketability? How do we fund those enhancements?
There was no shortage of answers from the participants. Assets identified included the county’s proximity to transportation corridors such as I-10 and highways 77 and 90, availability of large tracts of quality land, quality hospital and education systems, natural resources and existing infrastructure.
Ideas to enhance those existing assets included creating and keeping a current inventory of available land tracts and their available resources, such as water and sewer access. Also discussed was the importance of pre-developing the areas most desirable to develop by initiating new infrastructure. Promoting the community and developing continuity between local government entities, merchants and the private sector were also listed as a priority. Developing a stronger workforce through developing technical education and aligning curriculum to meet industrial needs were also identified a needed enhancement.
Funding ideas ranged from building stronger partnerships with both the public and private sectors and partnering with the Tourist Development Council to earmarking a percentage of county land sales to contribute to the economic development fund. The county’s strong recreation base was also discussed, along with the potential to enhance and develop it through state grants. More state and federal grants could also be identified through establishing a lobby relation in Tallahassee to listen out for funding opportunities.
“It’s time for us to stop talking about it and do something about it,” said John Robbins of Bay Solutions. “You have a lot more power than you realize. Together we can do it. Together, we can move mountains.”