Tom Fanning, Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO, speaks to symposium participants about the national economy and the energy outlook. Nearly 600 participants attended the Economic Symposium, one of the largest two-day event in Northwest Florida where leaders from the business community come together to discuss how to advance and better leverage the region’s assets.

SANDESTIN, Fla. –  Imagine it. Invent it. Design it. Build it.

These are the phrases that greeted nearly 600 business and community leaders who traveled from around the region and state to be part the 21st Gulf Power Economic Symposium, one of the longest-standing conferences in the region focusing on Northwest Florida’s economic future.

Kicking off the event, Stan Connally, Chairman, President, Chairman and CEO of Gulf Power, said this is the perfect time to celebrate the successes of where the region is economically, and by working together, we’ll move Northwest Florida forward.

“We are seeing amazing things happening across Northwest Florida, and all the ingredients are falling in place to move our region even further,” said Connally. “But we can create even more headlines as we work together. Now is the time to create the future together.”

Continuing the theme of unity, Connally pointed out the need of the 13 separate counties that make up Northwest Florida to continue to work together to push Northwest Florida into the future. The future, he said, is now.

“You have constituents and customers that you serve every day in counties across Northwest Florida,” he said. “We have the opportunity to speak to one another and erase county lines for the next two days. It just can’t just happen in one county, it happens in the entirety of Northwest Florida.”

Connally also pointed out that the region is growing, with more than 57,000 additional jobs needed by 2030 to keep pace with current levels. But it’s not just about creating jobs, he stated, it’s also about lifting people up out of poverty and into prosperity.

“There are currently 86,000 people under the age of 18 living in a state of poverty,” said Connally. “It’s important to remember how we as a state and region deal with poverty. These young people are our next generation workforce so we have to make sure we create the opportunities to provide skills and training.”

Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, added that while the state currently creates one in every 10 jobs in the U.S., to be sustainable, the state needs to create 2.5 million jobs by 2030. Being the 24th most diverse economy in the country, there is a need to continue the diversification and continue to grow jobs.

“We don’t have an employment gap, we have a skills gap,” said Wilson. “With 50 million more visitors and residents expected to the state by 2030, we will have to close the skills gap while we plan for the future.”

The Economic Symposium is the one of the largest two-day event in Northwest Florida where leaders from the business community come together to discuss how to advance and better leverage the region’s assets. This year, the theme is “Northwest Florida Forward” with an emphasis on bringing in not just the “usual suspects” economic development, such as Chamber of Commerce members, but also non-profits, faith-based groups and small business owners.

Other scheduled speakers include Peter Zeihan, Geopolitical Strategist and founder of Zeihan on Geopolitics, who will speak on The Accidental Super Power; Molly Fletcher, CEO of the Molly Fletcher Company, will discuss how to Unleash Your Potential; and Tom Fanning, chairman, president and CEO of Southern Company, who will discuss the National Economic and Energy Outlook.

Attendees will also receive a Florida Economic Update from Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; and a Regional Economic and Prosperity update from Zach Jenkins, director of the HAAS Center for Business Research and Development at the University of West Florida.

Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to present Florida’s Outlook for the Future on day two of the event.

For more information on the symposium, visit www.gulfpowersymposium.com.