By: Tony R. McCray
This past Monday and Tuesday Florida’s Great Northwest, a non-profit charged with the development of Northwest Florida counties, held meetings in association with their consulting partner, TIP Strategies out of Austin, Texas. The purpose was to obtain input from the local community for the planned submittal of a Northwest Florida Regional Economic Development proposal to Triumph Gulf Coast, the non-profit created to manage the 75% ($1.5 Billion) of the $2 Billion in BP Oil Spill Settlement Funds. These funds are targeted for 8 Northwest Florida counties from Escambia County to Wakulla County.
The meetings were held at University of West Florida’s Archaeology Network offices in Downtown Pensacola. This planning process began August 15th when the University of West Florida and Florida’s Great Northwest announced the award of an Economic Development Administration grant of $300,000 and to develop a regional plan for submittal to Triumph Gulf Coast.
While the Florida Legislative mandate is targeting 8 Northwest Florida Counties, it is only a governmental and geographical set-aside. There are no current initiatives targeting the minority community or minority business participation. Therefore, the efforts by the University of West Florida and Florida’s Great Northwest is the African-American and minority community’s best opportunity to participate in a process to achieve the goal of fair distribution of BP Oil Spill Funds to the underserved areas of Florida’s Panhandle.
The REAP Summit that was held September 30th and October 1st at the Pensacola Grand Hotel was a local and regional event to plan for and advocate for the African-American involvement in the distribution of Florida’s Economic Development Settlement Funds. However, leading up to the Pensacola summit, there were Gulf Coast regional conferences in Apalachicola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama. There were members of the Pensacola Black business community at both events. In fact, it is reported that all three events targeted the fair distribution of BP Oil Spill Settlement Funds. Florida is projected to receive $400,000,000 in July of 2017. $300 Million is targeted for the eight counties from Escambia to Wakulla County.
The meetings on how the $300 million should be spent were held this past Monday and Tuesday by Florida’s Great Northwest. The planning sessions were timed to take place at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:00 noon, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. The African-American involvement and participation were very light. One session had four Black representatives and another session had the same number. The 4:00 pm session had one Black participant. On Tuesday the meetings took place in Panama City for Bay County and the rural counties east of Bay County.
Gulf Power, under the leadership of Verdell Hawkins, is in the process of facilitating a larger involvement of the African-American community. Assisted by Scott Luth of FloridaWest, an economic development authority in Escambia County working throughout Northwest Florida, Hawkins met with a group of African-American leaders to obtain their ideas and input to send to Florida’s Great Northwest to enhance the participation of the minority community. The month of November is the target time period for the voice of the African-American community to be amplified. The Gulf Coast Voice will announce the future meetings of the Gulf Power facilitated planning sessions.