Northwest Florida Strategic Plan Finalized for BP Oil Spill Economic Development Funding


By: Tony McCray

Business owners, non-profit organization representatives, and political leaders from Escambia to Wakulla Counties were in Niceville on February 27th to participate in the presentations involved in the formal distribution by Florida’s Great Northwest of the Northwest Florida Strategic Plan. The plan has been discussed as the first step of these groups to prepare projects to compete against one another for the Triumph Gulf Coast funding decisions that will be passed on to Florida State Legislature Committees for the final authorizations.  Additionally, the consultants and officials of Florida’s Great Northwest made sure that the attendees understood that the plan is not limited to the BP Oil Spill Triumph funding, but instrumental to access investment and grant dollars from any interested parties.   

The steps toward answering the questions of what strategies will emerge from the plan for the minority were offered through numerous community input events that “brainstormed” the types of projects needed for meeting the needs of our Gulf Coast Region.  Other high-profile organizations involved in this very high-profile event included Gulf Power, the University of West Florida, Florida West (a Pensacola Chamber related economic development authority), and the region’s area various Chambers of Commerce have been engaged in organizing and brainstorming strategies to generate an economic development transformation in the region.  Under the facilitation of Gulf Power the region’s minority community was also involved in providing input to the plan.

Florida’s Great Northwest sent out invitations to regional organizations and governments to join them at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville for the launch of the economic development initiative branded as the “Northwest Florida Forward Implementation Plan. TIP Strategies (A Texas-based consulting firm) wrote the plan and was at the event to share their strategic recommendations based upon regional organizational input.  In fact the invitation cited TIP Strategies as an entity that would share their “expertise for the regional evolution of Northwest Florida.

The following is an excerpt from the plan’s Executive Summary: Over the course of five months, the TIP Strategies consulting team worked closely with Northwest Florida’s business, government, and community leaders to identify the region’s most promising opportunities for transformative economic growth. The first step was to establish a common understanding of assets and challenges. This discovery phase included roundtable discussions and interviews with over 860 Northwest Floridians representing a broad cross section of regional stakeholders. Roundtable discussions were held in multiple locations in the region with groups representing important constituencies, including:

Education and workforce development officials,

Human resource professionals,


General business and target industry leaders,


Real estate developers,

Economic development and chamber professionals,

Minority community leaders,

Infrastructure officials, and

Government and elected officials.

In addition to roundtable discussions, interviews were conducted with the region’s delegation of state elected officials and key private employers.

During this phase, the University of West Florida’s Haas Center compiled a Technical Report that includes a wide range of data and analysis for the 13-county region, which is published under a separate cover. The Technical Report addresses topics such as economic indicators, labor force, commuting patterns, industry analysis, occupational analysis, and innovation indicators. It also includes a snapshot of key indicators for each of the 13 counties. A summary of key findings from the Technical Report is provided below.

Northwest Florida Forward should not be viewed as a static document, but as one that invites revisions and amendments as conditions change. For this reason, regional stakeholders should take a dynamic approach to implementation—one that revisits this plan on a regular basis to ascertain progress and to reprioritize strategies and actions as needed”.

Comments were made by Lloyd Reshard, CEO for Cognitive Big Data Systems Inc. a local technology startup company that attended the event and presentations, to the Gulf Coast Voice for this article.  He stated,  “The Northwest Florida Forward initiative highlights improving the vitality of all areas and populations in the region as one of the guiding principles implies inclusiveness, however someone needs to be appointed to oversee that (minority) inclusion is adhered to.”  He also added, “For each of the Focus Councils an inclusion representative needs to be appointed. Special attention needs to be paid to establishing programs for growing minority talent and innovative minority entrepreneurs.”

Rashard recently graduated from the City of Fort Walton Beach’s Venture Hive accelerator program.  He’s also the President of Pivotal Data Technologies, a company provides technology consulting and develops mobile and web applications for networking purposes.  Additionally, he served the past four years on the College of Engineering Advisory Board at Virginia Tech, and the past three years on the Board of Trustees Community Maritime Park Associates Inc.  He currently serves on the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Committee at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

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