As more than 600 business and community leaders from around the region and state gathered for the 22nd Gulf Power Economic Symposium, they were greeted with these words:

Our Time. Our Place. Our Now.

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.

Gulf Power Company President Marlene Santos opened the event and recalled that what she finds unique about this area is 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.

Vikram Mansharamani, the author of Boombustology and an expert on “bubble” scenarios, then provided an unconventional look at the global economy and some advice on how to look to the future. He explained how today’s headlines can be explained in terms of four global trends: the Chinese investment bubble, technological innovation, alternative energy and demographics. The result is increasing supply but decreasing demand.

Vikram Mansharamani, an expert on Bubble Scenarios, spoke about the impacts of a temporary phenomenon “demand shock” during day one of the Gulf Power Economic Symposium.

But Mansharamani noted that what occupies headlines today is a temporary phenomenon, and the demand shock is coming.

“Virtually all of the population boom over next 25-30 years is in Africa and India – which are also the fastest growing economic regions,” said Mansharamani. “We are on the verge of a global consumer boom driven by a large middle class in these growing regions.”

He also discussed how northwest Florida is well positioned to take advantage of the coming boom, with the infrastructure and backbone that we already have in place along with the opportunities that we can take advantage of now. As Mansharamani pointed out, opportunities and threats are all a matter of perspective – it’s really about how we think about it.

“The future can be bright or bleak, the choice is ours!” he noted.

Derreck Kayongo, Global Soap Project founder and former CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, entertained the crowd with his lively message about harnessing your power to create change, during the final presentation on Wednesday.

The last speakers of the morning focused on our state and regional economic outlook. Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist and Director of Research with the Florida Chamber Foundation, revealed that if Florida were an independent country, we would have the 17th largest economy in the world. But Dr. Parrish pointed out that is not enough.

“We want Florida more prosperous,” he said. “We want prosperity in every zip code.”

Parrish said that to get there we have to continue to invest in our children, who are our future leaders and workers, as well as our current workforce. We also have to target industries and attract those companies to come to Florida to continue to grow and diversify our economy.

Dr. Parrish and his team completed a research project that found that every targeted industry job that Florida picks up returns $8,000 to the state every year.

The morning wrapped up with Dr. Rick Harper, an economic advisor with Triumph Gulf Coast, who gave insight into how the region is looking as we continue to recover from Hurricane Michael and how much economic damage some of the impacted counties are facing. He said we are a resilient community and will bounce back to be stronger than ever.

Dr. Harper ended his remarks with this takeaway: “Match your community’s resources with the needs of the marketplace and then you’ll be successful in growing jobs.”

Bruce Vredenburg, Hancock Whitney president of North Florida Region, said the Economic Symposium provides his company a unique opportunity to join other economic developers in growing the region.

“That takes a long time,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen if we are not all here contributing to the effort.”

Hancock Whitney Bank has sponsored the Economic Symposium for 11 years.

Vredenburg noted the Symposium is the only event in the region that provides Hancock Whitney a platform to get its brand in front of 600-plus economic stakeholders, an opportunity that has contributed to the growth of his business.

This year’s Gulf Power Economic Symposium attracted a record attendance of more than 630.

Other scheduled speakers Wednesday included David Lawrence, retired publisher of the Miami Herald and founder of The Children’s Movement, who talked about the importance of investing in every child; Derreck Kayongo, Global Soap Project founder and former CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, who talked about harnessing your power to create change; and Kara Cardona, Senior Vice President of Greater Pensacola Operations for Navy Federal Credit Union, who recounted her company’s experience in talent attraction and development as one of the state’s fastest-growing employers.

Attendees also heard leaders in the region discuss how to spur job creation through infrastructure and workforce development and learn key insights from national site location consultants to help our region continue to attract and retain targeted industries and companies. Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to speak on day two of the event on Thursday.

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