CHIPLEY — Local business leaders and elected officials gathered Tuesday in Chipley for Washington County’s first Economic Development Symposium.
“Today is the beginning of our future,” said Ted Everett, executive director of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event. “We have to have a plan, and we have to come together as a county.”
“Economic development is too important to leave in the hands of just the Chamber or just the county commissioners,” said Jim Brook, executive director of Opportunity Florida and moderator of the symposium’s panel.
The symposium featured experts in the area of economic development, including Kenny Griffin of the Chipola Regional Workforce Development Board, Dr. David Goetsch, founder and life board member of the Okaloosa Economic Development Commission, Neal Wade of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, Larry Sassano, of Florida’s Great Northwest, Terry Ellis, manager of West Point Home Inc. in Chipley, and Heather Squires of Enterprise Florida.
Dr. David Goetsch, the author of 70 books, presented “Economic Development 101” to the audience, which filled the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium auditorium.
Goetsch said that economic development hinges on the involvement of “civic entrepreneurs.”
“A civic entrepreneur is an individual who applies all the characteristics of a business entrepreneur to the economic development of a community or region,” Goetsch said. “They are often volunteers, and they spend their time after work and away from their families working for the good of the community.”
Economic development is a process, Goetsch said. “The goal is to create and retain jobs, that is what it is all about.”
When businesses look at communities to consider locating there, they often want to meet the county’s elected officials. “Local officials may say they support businesses, but when they are looking at a community, those businesses will talk to local business owners to see if what the local officials is true.”
Taking a long view is so important,” Goetsch said. “Economic development is a slow, murky process.”
Larry Sassano, president and CEO of Florida’s Great Northwest, discussed “Marketing Sites and Products” told local officials that a shovel ready industrial site is necessary for a community to “be in the game” of economic development.
“A Greenfield site with no or limited access with no or little infrastructure does not constitute a viable site and will not often be of interest to new or expanding businesses, and are better suited for agriculture or parks,” Sassano said.
For a site to be truly shovel ready, the planning, zoning surveys, title work, environmental studies, soil analysis and public infrastructure engineering has been completed prior to the site being offered for sale or lease, Sassano said.
“Shovel ready sites basically shorten the time it will take a prospect to have a building on his or her site and allows them to focus on moving forward to build the facility in a fraction of the time and be operational faster,” he said.
Heather Squires, manager of competition strategies for Enterprise Florida, discussed the organizations responsibilities for marketing the state to potential industries. “When a lead comes to the state, it is our job to match the community with the business’ needs,” she said.
Enterprise Florida has an entire section dedicated to military and defense contractors, which are an important part of the state’s economy, Squires said.
“Ultimately, it comes back to that local level,” she said. “You have to have the support at the local level and know what you are going to work on.”
Bay County’s Neal Wade summed up economic development as “recruitment, sustaining and expanding existing base, tourism, retail and entrepreneurship.”
“I would rather have 10 businesses with five employees than one business with 50 employees,” Wade said. “One of the first things you need to do is stop going to Dothan or Panama City to shop. Spend that money here in town with a local business.”
Wade said growing the businesses already in place is a key element of economic development that is often overlooked.
“Economic development is the process of creating wealth and increasing the tax base,” Wade said. “If you can grow jobs, then you increase your tax base and everyone benefits.”