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March 2023
From the Director's Desk
By Nathan Sparks, CEcD

Whew! What a fantastic – and incredibly busy – month it has been so far!   The annual FPL Northwest Florida Economic Symposium at Sandestin got things kicked off, and the pace certainly hasn’t slowed since then. In the past two weeks alone, One Okaloosa’s Business Leadership Council (BLC), Defense Support Initiatives (DSI) committee, TeCMEN committee and Tri-County Community Partnership Initiative (TCPI) committee all held productive meetings. From the positive report shared by Superintendent Chambers on sales tax funded school facility improvements at our BLC, to the wonderful student-prepared breakfast and tour that TeCMEN members were treated to at Okaloosa Technical College, to the informative update on partnership priorities provided by Dale Marks, Vice Director, 96th Test Wing at our TCPI meeting, all were incredibly beneficial.

Many of you were also on hand for our March 15 Roundtable Breakfast featuring Jennifer Cannon Kunz and sponsored by FPL. A proud Choctawhatchee High School grad, Jennifer now serves as Associate Director, Technical at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Jennifer discussed her career journey, and those in attendance left inspired by her message of “doing hard things until they become easy”. It was also fantastic to see several local students in the audience – what a great message for them to hear!

Also of note, on March 14 we received unanimous support from the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners for a Purchase and Sale agreement with a still confidential manufacturer that is seeking to acquire 48 acres within the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite that will lead to the creation of 350 new jobs. We anticipate a closing and public announcement sometime this summer.

In addition, our Associate Director Kay Rasmussen attended the Association of Defense Communities (ADC) Federal Forum in Washington D.C. before turning around and heading to Tallahassee for Florida Defense Alliance and Florida Defense Support Task Force Meetings in Tallahassee the following week. Ever the road warrior, Kay heads off to D.C. again later this month with our DSI leadership for congressional outreach in support of our 2023 Federal Priorities.

Lastly, with the State of Florida legislative session now underway there are several bills that we’re tracking. As always, some of these we view as favorable (like SB 102 known as the “Live Local Act”, which provides for additional tools and funding to expand affordable housing). Others cause concern (like HB 5, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida, Florida’s primary public/private economic development organization, along with several incentives/programs). As always, please feel free to reach out if you wish to hear our perspective on these or any other proposed bills.
Defense Support Initiatives
By Bob Marinan, Chairman

For our February meeting, Colonel Hammill, Commander of the 96/CEG at Eglin AFB, provided an update on Eglin’s Westside Expansion plan. Due to the anticipated growth, traffic flows and new building construction requirements in the next five years, Eglin AFB needs to expand the base proper on land currently outside of the West gate. A recent study offered potential alternatives and the #1 alternative would re-route a section of Highway 85 and General Bond Road to allow for expansion on the western portion of the installment’s main cantonment area. The Florida Department of Transportation is now moving forward with a feasibility study of that alternative. 
Regarding the protection of the Military Mission Line (MML) from encroachment from oil rigs, wind turbines and any other potential hazards, Representatives Waltz and Gaetz have introduced a Bill in the Armed Services Committee to establish a permanent moratorium on energy development in certain areas of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
There are currently two separate initiatives addressing childcare in Crestview. One, is the Higher Ground Education (HGE) private facility and the second is a 96 Test Wing VA clinic and childcare facility. The HGE effort has found a new local developer and hopefully, by the time you read this, it will be official.
Our Senator Rick Scott is the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee for Personnel. His priorities are to focus on recruitment, military housing, and access to childcare for our military families. Our DSI 2023 military priorities point paper has been completed and supports these critical needs. The paper has been distributed to key Congressional members and committees to include our two Senators and numerous local area and state representatives. 
A few DSI members will be traveling to Washington D.C. for meetings on 28 & 29 March with Congressional members to discuss our priorities for a permanent moratorium for the Military Mission Line, Gulf Range Enhancement Plan infrastructure needs, and additional housing and childcare development centers.
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Holly Karr, Chair

It seems 2023 just keeps being full of surprises. Some not so good in the banking sector, but at TeCMEN we are pleased to give a positive report for this first quarter.

Last month, our February TeCMEN meeting was a special treat on Valentines Day with Vertex Solutions hosting a fun breakfast in a festive way and with lots of fanciful pastries, cheese, fresh fruit, smoked Alaskan salmon dip ala’ Dezinski, and gifts of chocolate candy. Once the TeCMEN members were sweet on Vertex Solutions, Dennis Wikoff, the President & COO, provided an informative overview of the impressive partnerships his company holds with Government and private-sector organizations to solve their training challenges.
This month’s meeting was another feast for the palette as we traveled on March 14th to the Okaloosa Technical College (OTC) campus instead of our usual location. The OTC was the TeCMEN Member Spotlight and hosted the event. Jon Williams, Director, treated our members to a large array of breakfast delights prepared by Chef Marcus and the OTC Culinary Students. The meeting concluded with two simultaneous tours of the impressive OTC facilities and classrooms. It was exciting to see how OTC is training the future workforce for our area.

Our next TeCMEN Meeting is at the Fort Walton Beach UWF/NWFSC Joint Campus where Radiance Technologies is in the Member Spotlight and the breakfast host. This will be our last meeting before TeCMEN Industry Day, so you won’t want to miss it!

Have you heard? We have new TeCMEN polos available to all TeCMEN members. Soon you will see TeCMEN members around town proudly displaying the network colors.

TeCMEN Industry Day is May 17th and will be here before you know it! register today for individual attendance or one of our few remaining exhibitor booths. It’s not too late to grab the last remaining sponsorship for the Reception! Your company could be the tastiest part of the event attendees and exhibitors remember most. Contact us for more info or get your tickets at Come join us!
Business Expansion and Support Team
By Martin Pringle, Project Manager

In my first newsletter entry, I thought it paramount to address my experiences thus far in the Project Manager position. My first month and a half has been chock-full of incredibly beneficial and informative experiences and amazing opportunities. I have attended multiple conferences and have had the pleasure of meeting numerous organizational and county/state-level leaders. Being a new member to the team, there are a few items that I would like to convey as common themes and takeaways gained from my limited time in the role.

An invariable consensus attained from multiple site-selectors across various platforms is that the largest driving force in the location selection process is having ‘shovel-ready’ industrial sites available. Companies that are looking to relocate, expand, or start anew are typically not willing to consider locating to a region and county that would require them to wait idly for lengthy periods before beginning the development of their new facilities. Another major factor unanimously shared regarding site consideration is the extent of potential incentives and abatements that would be available if the given location is chosen.

Fortunately, due to the investments made by the county in our Shoal River Ranch Gigasite and Industrial Air Park, coupled with assistance from the Triumph Gulf Coast Fund and the Job Growth Grant Fund, Okaloosa hosts multiple ideal locations for prospective companies; particularly so regarding manufacturing companies. Although there has not been any announcements made since the last newsletter, the One Okaloosa EDC team has a great many of ongoing projects at various process stages. The potential addition of hundreds or even thousands of new, high-quality jobs remains a distinct possibility and each opportunity on the table could present a significant positive impact on the financial fortitude of our great county and its populace.
Welcome New Members
Members in the News
Congratulations to Vertex Solutions for being selected as a 2023 GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Award Honoree. The 12th Annual GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Award is a statewide competition that identifies companies expected to see significant growth over the next several years. Vertex Solutions is the only Northwest Florida based company represented on the list.  

The Okaloosa County School District’s STEMM Academy has been chosen to be part of the prestigious 2022-2023 National Blue Ribbon Program, honoring public elementary and secondary schools with students who perform at high levels. The Okaloosa STEMM Academy is a public middle school that focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medical fields. The Florida Department of Education nominated the STEMM Academy to the United States Department of Education due to its exemplary performance.
Current Topics
If you would like more insight on hot topics, visit One Okaloosa's blog written by Kelly Murphy-Redd, CEcD. You'll find topics such as Incubators and Accelerators, Retiring Military, Talent Attraction, Hypersonic Weapons, and much more!

Executive Committee Members and Staff
Jillian McQueen, Chairman; Chad Vuyovich, Vice Chair; Dr. Mike Mosley, Treasurer; Neko Stubblefield, Secretary; Nic Dezinski, Member-at-Large; Leslie Sheekley, Past Chairman

Ex Officios
CareerSource: Michelle Burns
County Commissioner: Nathan Boyles
Educational Partners: Dr. Devin Stephenson, Dr. Melinda Bowers, Mr. Marcus Chambers
Utility Partners: Steve Rhodes, Gordon King, Bernard Johnson
Employees / Contractors
Nathan Sparks CEcD, Executive Director
Kay Rasmussen CEcD, Associate Director / DSI Manager
Martin Pringle, Project Manager
John Ferrandini, Administrative Assistant
Linda Sumblin, TeCMEN Manager
Penny Mercer, Accounting Deparment
Monica Earley, Event Coordinator
Sal Nodjomian, TCPI Consultant
Post Office Box 4097
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549