Economic Development for All
There are about 75 official economic development agencies in Florida, and then there are the countless other partnerships and collaborations also focused on increasing jobs and tax revenue in their own way. In Northwest Florida—that is, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties—there exists 11 public and private organizations focused on developing our internal and external economy. But what do they all do? Surely there must be some overlap, some redundancy, right? Not so, according to leading job creators in the state. Each agency serves a unique function and has a specialized audience.
It is important to know what each of these organizations do in order to properly leverage their goals and resources to maximize Pensacola’s potential. Some focus on the state as a whole and see our nook of Florida as important in alternative ways; others focus on Pensacola exclusively with the intent of boasting all of our natural and business assets.
Enterprise Florida (EF), for example, is the principle economic development organization for Florida. It is a public-private partnership between Florida’s business and government leaders. Throughout the years, EF has championed Florida as the premier location for business expansion and relocation, and created a recently renewed interest in Florida both nationally and internationally as a top haven state for business. As a result, EF has created a significant number of new jobs and capital investments for the state.
EF works with 67 county partners across the state to best match new jobs and companies with Florida’s locations, resources and workforce. They also provide international trade and development resources and work with minority, small business, and entrepreneurship and capital division partners to provide training, development and financing options.
The staff at Enterprise Florida works with each of the state’s county partners, as well as CareerSource Florida, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and the FDOT to ensure that all state resources are understood through all levels of economic development.
“Once a company contacts EF, we help point companies to local areas that may have the specific resources the companies are seeking, such as sites, buildings, infrastructure and workforce,” said Beth Frady, director of public relations for Enterprise Florida. “In order to improve the state’s economy through job creation, it’s important to have representation from every community in the state. Florida’s economic development entities act as a team to ensure Florida is a business-friendly state and remains competitive. This structure also allows each region to share their business story and tout their unique resources to companies seeking to do business in the state. Florida offers a unique mix of metropolitan, rural, coastal and interior locations unlike other states.”
Florida’s Great Northwest
Zooming in to our panhandle region, Florida’s Great Northwest is a non-profit whose mission it is to market and brand the 16-county Northwest Florida region as a globally competitive location for business. They also work with regional partners to recruit new jobs and retain investment throughout the area. Though their primary marketing efforts are focused on the aviation, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, IT and logistics industries, they are always mindful of the many other sectors that make up Florida business.
“As a regional Economic Development Organization (EDO), our goal is to maximize our efforts to recruit industries to the region through a cooperative working relationship with our local EDOs who are all members of our organization,” said Larry Sassano, president of the organization. “We also work with our other member partners, the colleges and universities throughout the region and the CareerSource offices from Tallahassee to Pensacola.”
Florida’s Great Northwest is just one of six regional organizations throughout Florida that provide marketing support for their respective slice of the state.
“We develop our marketing program with the input and recommendations provided by the local EDOs,” said Sassano. “This way everyone buys into the plan that benefits their individual community needs.”
According to Sassano, when a company is evaluating new site locations for their growth, they generally look at a region or regions, not one specific community. They often start with the state organization, which in our case is Enterprise Florida, who sends the lead to the regional organizations and the local EDOs.
Florida’s Great Northwest tracks this lead and is often asked to package the community responses to be returned to the EF representative who is handling the lead. This allows the EF account handler to receive one package for the communities in our region rather than 16 individual packages. Companies who are evaluating several states for their next expansion do not want to filter through hundreds of proposals. They and the state want the evaluation process to be simplified as much as possible.
“Economic development is a very competitive process,” said Sassano. ”We are competing against other parts of Florida, other states, and often other countries for good jobs and investments. If you don’t have skin in the game, you can’t play. By that, I mean that in order to be properly represented to compete for leads, projects and clients, you need to have someone marketing your community and telling your story and the benefits you have to market to a company that may be interested in investing in your community. It does not happen by chance and no one is going to sell a community better than a local economic developer, because that is their job.”
Oftentimes, industry sectors will have their own regional representation. Innovation Coast, for example, is an alliance of technology-based companies in Northwest Florida with the goal to grow, sustain and showcase the region’s system of IT companies, capital investors and professionals.
Innovation Coast, like most other industry-specific alliances, partners with applicable companies, such as AppRiver, Gulf Power, the University of West Florida (UWF), Pensacola State College (PSC), and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. As a result, the organization has been responsible for a number of notable leaps forward for Northwest Florida in regard to technology.
“In May, we hosted a demo day in partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which allowed five area technology and knowledge-based companies to present their business model and underlying technology to a panel of investors and industry leaders,” said Innovation Coast Executive Director Donovan Chau. “We have hosted educational and networking events on topics such as intellectual property protection and capital formation and have recently entered into a contract with local marketing firm Duncan McCall to support the marketing of Northwest Florida of as a hub in the technology and knowledge-based industry sectors.”
IT Gulf Coast is another organization with similar goals to Innovation Coast. While the former focuses primarily on benefitting individual IT professionals in the region, the latter’s focus is mainly the companies as a whole. As you can imagine, there is often overlap between them and the two frequently work in tandem to market Northwest Florida as a hub of technology.
County Economic Development Organizations
Even more locally are the county operations, such as MyEscambia and Santa Rosa County Economic Development. The organizations work with local government officials, businesses, educational partners and chambers of commerce to develop a holistic, locally based approach to job creation and capital investment.
Each organization researches and broadcasts information on demographics, workforce readiness, available sites, infrastructure and more. They also work with local government to enact tax credits and exemptions, loan programs and numerous other incentives to make their respective region the most attractive.
MyEscambia and Santa Rosa’s EDO also work with UWF’s Small Business Development Center to help home-grown entrepreneurs realize their dreams and contribute to the area’s economy and job base.
FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance is a recent offshoot of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. It is a partnership between Escambia County and the City of Pensacola with both public and private funding. FloridaWest focuses on four primary pillars—wealth development, economic partnerships, sustainable growth, and a transformed workforce.
“We share many similarities with economic development colleagues around the state and the country; however our particular assets, geographic location and target industry focus designed to attract, grow and sustain certain business sets us apart,” said FloridaWest CEO Scott Luth. “Some of our unique advantages and community strengths include transportation connectivity, educational assets, as well as our strong ties to the military, which makes our region a smart choice for business in target industries such as aviation manufacturing and maintenance; financial and professional services; information technology and business processing outsourcing (BPO); defense, homeland and cyber security; offshore vessel service and support and manufacturing.”
All in all, FloridaWest actually partners with more than a hundred public and private entities to market our area’s unique advantages and expand prosperity for Northwest Florida. These partners include governmental bodies like Escambia County, the City of Pensacola, Florida’s Great Northwest and Enterprise Florida, as well as publicly funded institutions like PSC, UWF, and even Pensacola Energy and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.
The organization in its current form is relatively new, but the dedicated team of seven is working hard on continuing its success from when it was an arm of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.
“We are presently developing new benchmarking goals for our economic development program of work and initiatives, reviewing all local incentive programs, and working to develop restore workforce strategies,” said Luth. “The outcomes of our economic development project work between 2010 and 2015 include 8,800 new jobs, $450 million in new payroll and $797 million in new capital investment.”
Economic development agencies, partnerships, site selection, tax incentives—that is all well and good, but means nothing without a committed, educated and in-place workforce. Thankfully, that is where CareerSource comes in.
CareerSource is a state-wide network of 24 regional offices and more than a hundred city offices, all dedicated to connecting candidates with employers. The organization also provides training, issues reports, facilitates meetings and partnerships, and even works to offer internships.
“CareerSource is an important part of economic development,” said Sassano. “In fact, having trained personnel available when a company is seriously looking at your region is often critical factor to securing that company’s commitment.”
It is this multi-tiered, holistic approach to economic development—from the state-wide agencies attracting multi-billion dollar companies to the local organizations working to make the workforce the best it can be—that makes our state the perfect place for business and commerce. Florida’s job and wealth growth since the Recession has been the envy of the country, undoubtedly thanks to the dedication and hard work of various state, regional and county-based organizations all striving to make our state a destination for the best companies and workers our nation has to offer.