By Lori Leath Smith, Destin Forward Class Member
I value serving alongside friends, colleagues and community leaders who take the time to get involved. The benefits to our quality of life, our profession and, yes, even our emotional satisfaction come into play when we are concerned with our community’s success.
What does this have to do with Economic Development, our Destin Forward class topic in December? In order for any area to thrive, relays John Hofstad, Okaloosa County Administrator, we must pursue activities that allow community growth in ways we desire; ways that offer families affordable places to live with quality education, fun activities and available jobs in their fields. Likewise, businesses need trained workers and entrepreneurs need support in order to set up shop in our beautiful area. All of this contributes to the overall vibrancy of our community.
For example, families want to move into areas with great education for their children. Marcus Chambers, School Superintendent of Okaloosa County Schools, says out of 67 counties in Florida, Okaloosa County is #4 in the state! Why? Perhaps it’s the emphasis on the importance of each individual student no matter their background. As the second largest employer in Okaloosa County (3009 employees ), Marcus says though 50% of students in Okaloosa County schools receive free or reduced lunches, 69% of its schools are ‘A’ schools and 97% are ‘A-B’ schools. There are strong 6-12 CTE programs in every elementary school, a focus on a community of code, and career and technical education—a huge drawing point in terms of economic development.
As quality education is one of the main factors contributing to a healthy economy, fortunately, we have Northwest Florida State College providing post-secondary education in several meaningful fields. Bill Allison with the college explains there are approximately 10, 662 students currently attending with a segment graduating each year—a total annual economic impact of 333.2 million or 5976 jobs annually. NWFL State continues to develop programs to meet workforce demands, establish training centers, perform needs assessment of companies, then train employees, and have registered apprenticeships—all of this to attract businesses to Okaloosa County.
Jason Fulghum of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office explains that safety also weighs into the quality of life in an area as well as programs for qualifying inmates. A successful implementation of zero tolerance, especially during seasonal times such as spring break, has alleviated many of the negative issues the city has been facing in years past.
Wesley Hudgens with Gulf Power reminds us that his company (and others) are intricately involved in the economic development of our region by helping attract new businesses that need power and more companies that offer diversified jobs and services.
Ada Clark, Interim Manager for Community & Economic Development Team Okaloosa Walton TPO (West Fl Reg Planning Council) and Nathan Sparks with the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council (OCEDC) both agree our region benefits economically from the military with its 70,000 jobs and what they contribute to our local communities. Out of all Florida counties, Okaloosa County has the greatest number of transitioning military personnel and Florida has the second highest number of separating military behind Texas.
My point is that so many good things are going on in our community that we can learn more about and get involved in. A strong community where the residents help each other, education is top quality, safety of residents and visitors is a top priority and where there are needed resources helps facilitate a sense of place, security and enjoyment of living. This attracts a valuable and talented workforce, companies wishing to launch, expand or connected. This is the kind of community in which I want to live.
For more information on Destin Forward, visit DestinChamber.com.