June 2019 Letter – Community & Economic Development

Greetings Northwest Florida leaders!

We’re nearly halfway through the year and I’m sure many of you would agree, 2019 is shaping up to be a busy and exciting year.

As we move into the summer months, we are already welcoming large numbers of visitors to our beautiful Northwest Florida beaches.

Our visitors play a vital role in our state and regional economy. They save up money all year to enjoy our slice of paradise, and they support our strong economy through sales tax and Tourist Development Tax collections. Florida’s no-personal-income tax, that we each enjoy as citizens of the state, is largely due to the 120 million-plus visitors who travel to Florida each year. We must continue to focus on keeping our state clean, attractive and a desirable destination location in order to keep our state fiscally sound.

Our Gulf Power team continues the process of integrating into our new NextEra Energy family. In the last five months since the acquisition we have been busy sharing best practices with our sister company, Florida Power & Light. I truly believe this integration will result in both Gulf Power and FPL developing world-class organizations that strengthen not only Northwest Florida but our entire state.

Many of you may have begun to notice some of the exciting changes that Gulf Power is planning to make over the next several years to ensure reliability and competitive pricing. NextEra Energy is the world’s largest owner and operator of renewal energy from the sun and wind, and a focus for Gulf Power is to develop new solar energy centers. We recently announced the construction of the Blue Indigo Solar Center in Jackson County and the proposed Cotton Creek Solar Center in Escambia County. In addition, Gulf Power will continue to focus on storm-hardening our energy grid to make our company more resilient. These changes, and others, will make Gulf Power a more resilient utility, with competitive prices. I can’t think of a better way to invest in economic development in our region.

I’m also excited that two of our very own economic developers from Northwest Florida were recognized recently by Consultant Connect as “Top 50 Economic Developers” in the United States. Congratulations to Scott Luth, CEO FloridaWest, and Jennifer Conoley, Gulf Power’s Senior Economic Development representative, for being selected for this top honor by their peers. I would also like to congratulate Crystal Stiles, FPL Economic Development director, for also being recognized this year. Crystal is an accomplished leader who continues to be a strategic partner of Gulf Power.

Going forward, the Gulf Power Community & Economic Development team will continue to focus on assisting in the Hurricane Michael rebuilding efforts in Bay, Gulf, Jackson, Wakulla and Homes counties. We are also actively advocating and collaborating on the rebuild of Tyndall Air Force Base as the air base of the future, with buildings equipped with smart technology, modernized designed, and built to withstand future major hurricanes. As of my writing today, the funding for this strategic asset of Northwest Florida has not been secured in Congress. We must as a community, a region and a state focus on securing this funding.

As always, I am proud to be part of Northwest Florida,

Rick Byars
Community and Economic Development General Manager
Gulf Power

Economic Symposium revealed the energy of our region

Gulf Power Economic Symposium 2019

Hurricane Michael may have postponed the 22nd Gulf Power Economic Symposium, but it clearly did not derail enthusiasm for Northwest Florida’s signature economic development event.

A sold-out crowd of nearly 600 business and community leaders from around the region and state gathered for the rescheduled 22nd Gulf Power Economic Symposium in April at Sandestin’s Baytowne Conference Center.

“The engagement and energy from attendees at this year’s Economic Symposium is representative of the momentum in our region,” said Jennifer McFarren, Gulf Power Community Relations.  “We are grateful for the collaborative outlook each attendee brought to this year’s event.”

Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis who spoke about the Florida economy at the Symposium
Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis who spoke about the Florida economy at the Symposium

The annual symposium is one of the longest-standing conferences in the region focusing on Northwest Florida’s economic future, providing an opportunity for leaders to learn what drives our economy now and how we can continue to grow and advance our region in the future. This year’s theme was “Our Time. Our Place. Our Now!”

Gulf Power President Marlene Santos opened the event noting Northwest Florida is unique in how we work together to build, support and grow our region.

“You think beyond yourself, your business, your city, because you know that we are stronger as one – we are stronger together. You understand an economic win for one Northwest Florida county is a win for all,” she said.

While not all of the economic news was rosy, speakers planted ideas in the minds of attendees about how negatives could be turned into opportunities.

Local economist Rick Harper pointed out that Florida’s economy is slowing but there is no recession in the forecast. If Northwest Florida improves the quality of its assets – labor, capital, natural resources, intellectual property and entrepreneurial ability – those assets would earn a higher return in the marketplace.

Symposium speaker Vikram Mansharamani
Symposium speaker Vikram Mansharamani

Vikram Mansharamani, the author of Boombustology and an expert on “bubble” scenarios, pointed out that Northwest Florida is well positioned to take advantage of a coming population boom in Africa and India, with its infrastructure backbone in place to service the growing demand there. “The future can be bright or bleak, the choice is ours,” he said.

Gray Swoope, VisionFirst Advisors, supported Mansharamani’s observation by noting our region’s military and little-known transportation network – ports, railroads and highways – are among the key puzzle pieces of economic development in Northwest Florida.

Gov. Rick DeSantis spoke on the state of Florida saying, “Northwest Florida is one of our jewels and has a lot of potential.” And he pointed to the revitalization of downtown Pensacola.

Before the two-day Symposium wrapped up, Gulf Power announced that the 23rd annual Economic Symposium has been scheduled for Feb. 27-28, 2020. Visit the Symposium website to see photos of this year’s event and links to speakers’ presentations. Check back for updates on registering for next year’s event.

Gulf Power Economic Symposium provides business opportunities

David Melvin
David Melvin

With more than 600 attendees representing business, economic development and government stakeholders from across Northwest Florida and the state of Florida, networking opportunities are one of the benefits of Gulf Power’s annual Economic Symposium.

This is one slice of the symposium that keeps Marianna business owner David Melvin retuning year after year, for the past 15 years.

“The major benefits of the Symposium for me are learning about the economic trends and happenings in Northwest Florida and networking with the regional and state leaders, said Melvin, president of David Melvin Coastal Engineers. “The Symposium often has very tangible benefits.”

Twelve years ago, while in the process of trying to attract Green Circle wood pellet plant to Jackson County, Melvin attended the Symposium and connected with someone who was able to help with a critical infrastructure need to seal the deal.

“I talked to a key legislative leader and explained our need for road improvements to U.S. 231, he said. “As a result of that meeting at the symposium, we obtained the necessary funding for the road improvements and landed the world’s largest wood pellet production facility with a capital investment of over $120 million.”

Now called Enviva after an acquisition in 2015, the plant began operations in Cottondale in 2008 employing more than 100 people and producing wood pellets that are shipped from the Port of Panama City.

“I always come away from the Symposium challenged to dream big and expand my vision for improving our communities,” he said.

Tell us about your Symposium success story at econdev@nexteraenergy.com.

Northwest Florida shines at the Florida Economic Development Conference

Northwest Florida’s own professionals were among the top winners at the Florida Economic Development Council’s 2019 Florida Economic Development Conference

Rural Deal of the Year winners

This year, both recipients of the Dan Wester Young Innovator Scholarship Award hailed from the Panhandle. Antonio Jefferson, city manager of Gretna, and Garrett Wright, vice president of the Bay Economic Development Alliance in Panama City, received the award given annually by Florida High Tech Corridor Council— which drives progress in the region — in recognition of the achievements of an outstanding young innovator in economic development in Florida. Jefferson and Wright received a scholarship of up to $5,000 to be applied toward coursework and fees associated with achieving the Certified Economic Developer designation.

The Deal of the Year award is given to communities with an outstanding achievement of a location or expansion economic development project. This award recognizes a rural, urban and regional cooperative area. This year, the collaborative effort of the Highway 79 Corridor Authority received recognition as the Rural Economic Development Deal of the Year. This Corridor is south of the interchange of Interstate 10 and Highway 79 from the City of Bonifay, through Holmes County and into Washington County at the intersection of Hwy 280 and Hwy 79. This project engaged three governments to solve the mutual problem of lack of sewer and water services in this area with the opportunity to grow a commercial and industrial development corridor in the future. From the economic development side, this effort was spearheaded by Raymon Thomas with the Holmes County Economic Development Council and Ted Everett with the Washington County Economic Development Council.

Two leaders known across the state of Florida also received top recognition. Crystal Stiles, director of Economic Development for Florida Power & Light and current chair of FEDC, was the Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year. This honor is the profession’s most prestigious in the state and recognizes a professional for outstanding dedication and commitment to the economic development profession and FEDC. This year’s Toni Jennings Workforce Professional of the Year award was given to Michelle Dennard, president & CEO of CareerSource Florida. This award is given annually in recognition of the achievements of an outstanding workforce developer within the state of Florida.

Congratulations to all the Northwest Florida 2019 award winners!

University of West Florida’s Center for Cybersecurity on the move, in the news

Founders Week 2019 - Center for Cybersecurity Grand Opening
Esteemed members from UWF and the Pensacola community gathered in the Studer Community Institute in downtown Pensacola on Monday, April 15, 2019, for the grand opening of UWF’s Center for Cybersecurity. The state of the art facility not only builds upon UWF’s connection with the Downtown area, but offers students the resources and technology to fulfill the ever growing cybersecurity job field.

The nationally-recognized University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity has a new, state-of-the-art facility in the downtown Pensacola Studer Community Institute Building. The new site increases the UWF presence downtown, demonstrates that the university is committed to cybersecurity resiliency beyond the main campus and creates new opportunities to interact and support the community.

The facility includes a cyber operations and security training lab, cyberinfrastructure security lab, cyber innovation area and an educational security operations center that immerses the community in cybersecurity roles and careers. A virtual environment created in partnership with Metova CyberCENTS, the Florida Cyber Range operates in the space and provides advanced hands-on training and testing solutions through customizable modules.

The UWF Center for Cybersecurity provides training for businesses, government and defense organizations through its Cybersecurity for All program. The new center allows the program to continue these services and expand community outreach including K12 programs, cybersecurity events, competitions, tours and public addresses. Outside of programming, the Center provides a venue to showcase new technologies and best practices. Read more about the Center at these links: Pensacola News Journal, WEAR-TV, YouTube and UWF Newsroom.

Founders Week 2019 - Center for Cybersecurity Grand Opening
UWF Cybersecurity Ambassador Caroline Krouse giving presentations to educate and increase awareness of the importance of cybersecurity to the attendees of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity grand opening at the Studer Community Institute on Monday, April 15, 2019.

Cybersecurity leaders meet in Pensacola
In addition to expanding in downtown Pensacola, UWF also hosted cybersecurity executives from across the nation during the Centers of Academic Excellence Leadership Forum in Pensacola in April to address the evolving cyberthreat landscape.

The University of West Florida, which serves as one of eight Cybersecurity CAE Regional Resource Centers across the nation, partnered with the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to host the forum.

Approximately 300 executives in academia, business and government attended the forum. Topics included national challenges in cybersecurity workforce development, state and industry workforce needs, international cybersecurity education initiatives and industry innovations in cybersecurity. Distinguished speakers including cybersecurity executives from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, NATO, IBM, AT&T and institutions with cybersecurity programs shared their expertise at the forum. 

NSA Executive Director Harry Coker Jr.
UWF welcomed cybersecurity thought leaders from around the globe for a three-day Center for Academic Excellence Executive Leadership Forum at the Hilton Pensacola Beach from Tuesday, April 23, to Thursday, April 25, 2019. The forum members discussed contemporary cybersecurity challenges faced in academic, government and industry spaces, and provided participants with the opportunity to tour UWF’s newly opened Center for Cybersecurity and its partnership facility at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette M. Nuñez welcomed the executives on behalf of the state of Florida and NSA Executive Director Harry Coker Jr. delivered the keynote address. Coker told the executives that the nation faces a serious 12-year cybersecurity expertise gap because the requirements for expertise in cybersecurity are growing exponentially. That’s compounded by a critical shortage in the number of cybersecurity professionals trained properly to protect the world. Executives emphasized the importance of collaboration among academia, business and government to address the evolving cyberthreat landscape. Read more about the forum at these links: Florida Trend,  Pensacola News Journal, WEAR-TV, WKRG

Mark your Calendars!

CED calendarDimensions of Security: A field seminar
June 27
Register here
Presented by the Alan L. Freed Associates, based in Washington, D.C., the free seminar will cover national and international security threats; Cybersecurity and the Space Force.

Florida Chamber of Commerce Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit Florida
August 13 – 14
Jacksonville, FL
Register here
The Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit will gather leaders from Florida’s military and defense industry, economic development experts, policymakers and the business community to examine the challenges and opportunities facing this important industry. Don’t miss out on adding your voice to the conversation.

The Next Big Thing
The Next BIG Thing
August 27
Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, Miramar Beach
Register here
Who is the Next BIG Thing? YOU ARE!
What business is the Next BIG Thing? YOURS IS!
Join the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce for The Next BIG Thing. Over 350 attendees come together for a fun day of networking, professional development and inspiration. The event will showcase dynamic speakers, addressing topics beneficial to empowering women professionally and personally, emerging and existing entrepreneurs and leadership development.

TeCMEN Industry Day
August 29
Fort Walton Beach
Showcase company capabilities, network with industry peers and receive meaningful content from high profile speakers representing government, defense and the private sector.

Haas Center Fall Forum
September 26
Studer Community Institute Tower — downtown Pensacola
The ​Haas ​Center ​Fall ​Forum ​is ​a ​half-day ​event ​being ​curated ​by ​the ​University ​of ​West ​Florida’s ​Haas ​Center ​and ​the ​Division ​of ​Research ​and ​Strategic ​Innovation. ​The ​goal ​is ​to ​bring ​together bright ​minds ​and ​exciting ​vendors ​to ​give ​data-driven ​talks ​to ​a ​diverse ​audience ​of ​economic ​
developers, ​business ​and ​non-profit ​leaders ​and ​staff, ​and ​community ​members. ​Forum ​attendees ​will ​leave ​with ​a ​clear ​sense ​of ​how ​to ​use ​data ​to ​better ​tell ​their ​story.

October 2 – 4
Pensacola Beach
Register here
(Early Bird registration ends June 30)
ITEN WIRED is the Gulf Coast’s premier event to connect, collaborate and build community with industry leaders, entrepreneurs and educators in technology. We’re a community of leaders, innovators, and academics who come together to exchange ideas and forge new collaborations around innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

Florida Chamber’s Future of Florida Forum
October 28 – 30
The Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Future of Florida Forum will bring together Florida’s business leaders, industry experts and elected officials to discuss the opportunities and challenges impacting Florida’s future between now and 2030.

EntreCon 2019
EntreCon 2019
November 13 – 14
Downtown Pensacola
Register here
Be the best you, you can be at ENTRECON® 2019. Preparing YOU for The Workplace of the Future.

Join us at EntreCon® to learn how to create amazing employee experiences, attract top talent and reduce employee turnover. Look forward to: Inspirational main stage speakers, tactical breakouts and networking with like-minded leaders.