Northwest Florida’s Black Community Provides Input on Regional Economic Development Plan

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By: Tony McCray

Northwest Florida’s Black Community representatives interested in economic development have met in Pensacola (Escambia County), Ft. Walton Beach (Okaloosa County), and in Panama City to provide their ideas and comments on the economic development needs in their cities, their counties, and the Northwest Florida Region.  These three communities are the largest cities in Northwest Florida and Florida’s Great Northwest.   Gulf Power, the University of West Florida, and FloridaWest, area Chambers of Commerce have all been engaged in brainstorming strategies to ignite an economic transformation in the region.

Tuesday, November 29th, Gulf Power once again under the leadership of Verdell Hawkins, facilitated a meeting with a group of African-American and majority business leaders in Panama City for their ideas for the regional strategic plan.  The attendees included the African-American Mayor Van Johnson of Apalachicola; community development officials of Port St. Joe; Lewis Jennings, the NAACP Northwest Florida Area Director; Walter Miller, President/CEO of WIM Associates Inc. of Panama City; Valerie Houston, the Environmental Division Director for Ver-Val Enterprises, an African-American Defense Contractor in Metal Fabrication located in Ft. Walton Beach; and Jacqueline Miles, the Publisher of the Gulf Coast Voice Newspaper.

This meeting was a repeat of the community input sessions held in Pensacola and Ft. Walton Beach to obtain their input to send to Florida’s Great Northwest to enhance the participation of the minority community in the regional plan.

Kim Wilmes, Florida’s Great Northwest’s President and CEO, said, “The end goal of the finalized strategic plan, due to be presented to the Florida Legislature on  Jan. 20, is to pinpoint how to improve in five core areas: business vitality, entrepreneurship and innovation, transportation infrastructure, the workforce and quality of place”. Her organization’s latest draft was presented to the public on December 6th and provided a broad overview of the core areas, but officials will aggregate further input through online surveys later this month to specify the plan more clearly. Wilmes said the final plan would not dictate explicit projects for funding, but it would provide more detail than the strategy presented on December 6th.

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, to obtain input from the local communities and regional interest groups for the planned submittal of a Northwest Florida Regional Economic Development Plan to the Florida Legislature.  It is expected that following the acceptance of the regional strategic plan that economic development proposals and business plans (tied to the plan) will be submitted 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 targeted for 8 Northwest Florida counties from Escambia County to Wakulla County.

Interested groups and individuals can review the latest draft of the strategic plan on Florida’s Great Northwest’s website: www.floridasgreatnorthwest.com. Comments on the plan can be forwarded to Dr. Calvin Avant at cavant1@bellsouth.net or Mike Hicks at mike.hicks@hixardt.com. The two represent the lead minority non-profit and the lead for-profit for the Escambia County BP Oil Spill RESTORE Act applicant “SOAR With RESTORE” and are also facilitating local and regional African-American input from the local and regional areas for the Florida’s Great Northwest’s Strategic Plan.

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