Chipley celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an event that lasted for three days; Saturday, Jan. 18 through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on Monday, Jan. 20.

CHIPLEY — Chipley celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an event that lasted for three days; Saturday, Jan. 18 through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on Monday, Jan. 20.

The first day of service was held at Gilmore Park in Chipley on Saturday, Jan. 18 were hundreds gathered for food, fellowship and to ponder on what it means to be “living the dream, working the vision.”

One of several guest speakers was Nicole Barefield, Publisher of the Washington County News, member of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council.

“It’s a pleasure to be with you today, and share thoughts on how ‘living the dream, working the vision’ relates to a successful economy for Washington County,” said Barefield. “Actually, I think it’s the other way around – working the vision to live the dream. In our vision statement the Chamber says it is dedicated to providing leadership for developing a strong economy where businesses prosper and our communities thrive.”

What does this mean for Washington County?

“It’s fair to say most would take this to mean there are plenty of jobs  -- good jobs with good wages – at least state average or higher; it means businesses and industry are prosperous, and there is enough diversity in jobs and business to balance the ups and downs of economic cycles; our tax base is strong enough to amply support the infrastructure and health and human services we need and expect; we can support our families without being overly dependent on government assistance. It means our county is the best place to live, work and play – to raise our families and enjoy the benefits of small town, rural America.”

She said that “this vision applies to all Washington County businesses … not just some. And this vision supports all Washington county communities – and the people and families who populate them – not just some.”

“You may have heard the saying, ‘a rising tide floats all boats’ – and it’s true for a strong economy – it’s the engine to help our communities thrive – but realizing this vision is not easily, or quickly achieved,” said Barefield. “It’s not news that Washington County, and Florida and the country have been struggling with the outcome of a weak economy. Just a year ago unemployment was in double digits, we’re finally in single numbers now, but still above the state average of 6.4 percent, and higher than most in the panhandle.”

She said she has “witnessed several local small businesses open and close within a 12-month period – local, good people with a good idea or service.”

“Our local government is facing high debt and not bringing in the revenues it should from a low property tax base and as a county we rank high on measures related to poverty – such as free and reduced lunch in our schools, and obesity,” said Barefield. “But you know, the Chamber’s slogan is we believe in Washington County – and we believe we can achieve our vision for this county. Here’s some of actions and initiatives we are working on – the reality is they will take time and everyone working to come to fruition  -- but we are committed to making this happen.”

Working with all stakeholders – government, businesses, organizations to develop an economic development plan for our future – sustainable industry and jobs.

“I challenge you to take advantage of the resources, leverage opportunities to make the county better and your dream a reality,” said Barefield. “Make your issues known – participate in our next Economic Symposium to develop a plan for the future of Washington County; it’s Feb. 13  -- be part of the solution to make this county better. Take advantage of the opportunities to develop your business skills – 80 percent of Florida’s new businesses are small businesses, but many fail without proper preparation or planning.”

She said that the Economic Development Council has sponsored several seminars on business planning and management, increasing profitability, understanding credit, at little or no cost.

“Become lifelong learners, and encourage your kids to do the same -- truly successful people understand this – but a lot of our youth do not,” she said. “They don’t recognize these truths – there is no quick and easy path to long-term success and all of us are responsible individually for our successes, and the choices we make to achieve them. Be committed to doing what it takes to live your dream – you do have to work the vision to make it happen, and can be hard sometimes, be the role-model for your children and families by showing them the importance of contributing to their  community by being productive and engaged. Again – together we succeed in making Washington County a better place for us all to work, and live and raise our families – living the dream, because we worked the vision – together.”

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