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March 2022
From the Director's Desk
By Nathan Sparks, CEcD

Florida’s roughly 60 day state legislative session came to a close last week, with the House and Senate almost unanimously approving a record $112.1 billion state budget – thanks in part to $37 billion in federal money received as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a point of comparison, the proposed FY 2022-2023 budget is 10% more than the current budget and 20% above the pre-pandemic level.  (Of course, Governor DeSantis retains line item veto authority and the budget now heads to his desk for final consideration.) 

As usual, many of the priorities that were outlined by both the Governor and legislative leadership prior to the session translated to specific funding appropriations. From our perspective, some of the more noteworthy items include:

  • $268.1 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and $153.3 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program, including $100 million for a “Florida Hometown Hero Housing Program” offering down payment and closing cost assistance
  • $400 million for broadband expansion efforts to underserved areas of the state
  • A $1.7 billion increase for education – including $800 million for teacher pay raises
  • $10 million for a reactivated “Florida State Guard” – a unit that was initially established during WWII as backfill for deployed forces
  • A 5.38% across-the-board wage increase for state workers, along with specific pay increases for first responders, correctional officers and probation officers
  • A $20 million bonus program to recruit law enforcement officers
  • Full funding for Enterprise Florida, our primary state economic development partner
  • $50 million in non-recurring funds for VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism promotion organization (a five year extension of the organization’s sunset to 2028 was also approved)
  • $15 million for the Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program – a competitive grant program for schools and colleges who sponsor apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs
  • $50 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund – a key source of funding for public infrastructure and workforce development projects intended to spur economic development
  • A month-long state gas tax holiday in October – of note, Florida’s gas tax is roughly $0.25 per gallon and Governor DeSantis was seeking a five month-long suspension of these collections

With inflation on the rise, Florida lawmakers also established a $1 billion fund to counter the impact of escalating costs on the state budget. In other policy matters, COVID-19 liability protections once again took center stage. The current law shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits and was set to expire this year. However, lawmakers last month approved a bill that extends the protections through June 1, 2023. It has since been signed by the Governor. Speaking of Governor DeSantis, he chose Okaloosa County’s own Florosa Elementary School as the site for signing Senate Bill 1048, which serves to replace the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) with computer-based progress monitoring in English, Language Arts and Mathematics.

Defense Support Initiatives
By Kay Rasmussen, Manager

As I am sure you are aware, Okaloosa County houses the largest Air Force installation in the Department of Defense; Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin AFB consists of a land footprint of 724 square miles and 134,000 square miles of overwater and overland air space. Eglin’s massive land area, sitting across the three counties of Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton, houses ten auxiliary fields, to include Hurlburt Auxiliary Field 9 and Duke Auxiliary Field 3 supporting Air Force Special Operations Command, and 51 unique test sites. Eglin AFB supports Air Force, Army and Navy test and training units, and hosts major organizations for numerous development programs, operational units, military schools and various Federal agencies.
The 96th Test Wing, Eglin’s host wing, is the test and evaluation center for Air Force air-delivered weapons, navigation and guidance systems, Command and Control systems, and AF Special Operations Command Systems. The 96th Test Wing manages the Eastern Gulf Test and Training Range (EGTTR; aka Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range). The EGTTR connects test and training ranges and capabilities across the eastern Gulf of Mexico extending from NW Florida to Key West. This multi-service training area supports simultaneous maritime, air and land training exercises. The EGTTR provides unique capabilities to test, train with, and evaluate high-altitude supersonic air combat training, air-to-air missile testing, drone targeting, hypersonic weapons testing, space launches/landings, and other activities. The military EGTTR is protected from incompatible oil drilling and related activity by a federally mandated buffer known as Military Mission Line. No drilling activity is allowed east of the MML; which is due to sunset 30June2022.
96TW Commanders have identified protecting and sustaining the EGTTR, and the MML, as their top priority. To assist in building further awareness among key local and regional constituencies regarding the importance of tri-county military assets, the need to sustain/enhance the EGTTR and the significance of protecting the Military Mission Line, an educational video has been developed.
One Okaloosa engaged Kennetic Productions to compose a targeted Team Eglin and EGTTR information video. The result is a short and impactful informational video. The goal is to achieve expanded outreach focused on the EGTTR buffering and sustainment needs.  
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Nic Dezinski, Chairman

It’s been a busy couple of months in TeCMEN preparing for TeCMEN Industry Day. I can’t believe it is almost here! We are very excited for the event and hope you can join us. One of TeCMEN’s signature projects is the TeCMEN Industry Day which will celebrate its 5th Anniversary this year. As the Gulf Coast’s leading one-day technology, engineering, and manufacturing expo, TeCMEN Industry Day (TID) combines robust and relevant content with meaningful networking opportunities. Detailed information and event registration can be found at

MANY THANKS and appreciation to all the generous 2022 TID Sponsors and Partners.

  • Event Date: April 26th – Destin Fort Walton Beach Convention Center - Registration includes access to all sessions, keynote luncheon and networking reception. Attendance Registration closes April 16th – No tickets will be sold at the door.
  • Full Conference Registration $75 per person
  • Special discounted registration for current TeCMEN and One Okaloosa EDC Members is $50 per person
  • $10 registration for Active-Duty military, Federal Civil Service, or State, Okaloosa County and Okaloosa Municipality Elected Officials

We are pleased to announce that the 2022 TeCMEN Industry Day Exhibitor Hall is sold out with 46 exhibitors purchasing 52 booths--more than we'ver ever sold in prior years! A list of the Exhibitors can be found via The Exhibitor Hall will be open all day with the exception of the lunch timeline.

During the TeCMEN February meeting we had the opportunity to hear from Ayesha Haider, Associate Director representing the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBCD) at UWF. The Florida SBDC at UWF is designated as Florida’s Principal Provider of Business Assistance. Ayesha shared valuable and informative information to assist employer growth and expansion with a focus on Defense Contracting.

Due to the March meeting date conflict with the Northwest Florida Economic Symposium, the March TeCMEN meeting was cancelled.

Please join us in welcoming new TeCMEN member Aerohead Inc., a Crestview based precision machining company to this elite group of professionals. A huge shout out goes to all of our renewing members--Thank you!
Business Expansion and Support Team
By Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success

When the world shut down due to COVID in March of 2020, One Okaloosa EDC (along with everyone else) pivoted to using web meetings to conduct business. After trying several different platforms, we decided on GoToMeeting as the easiest to use from a meeting host and a meeting attendee standpoint. After learning the GoToMeeting through some formal training and some trial and error, One Okaloosa EDC decided to kick off a series of free webinars that would provide useful information to organizations throughout Okaloosa County and beyond, while also showcasing subject-matter experts who are valued investors in One Okaloosa EDC.

Our previous webinars included:
    Leading Through Chaos, 12/20, featuring the Okaloosa County Administrator, the Northwest Florida State College President, and the CEO of a local business.
    Building a Winning Career in a Technical Profession, 3/21, featuring a noted author, emeritus college vice president, two-time past chairman of the One Okaloosa EDC, and distinguished member of the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. And this was just one guy!
    Using Branding and Technology to Reach Customers & Attract Talent, 6/23, featuring a distinguished panel from leadership, HR, and marketing from Cox Media.
    Creative Employee Retention in a Competitive Environment, 10/21, featuring HR professionals from several staffing firms and leadership from a local IT company.

Upcoming webinar includes:
    Strategic Planning to Combat Lack of Engagement, the Great Resignation, and Mental Health Challenges, 3/29/2022, featuring a distinguished panel from the HR consulting firm OneDigital. To register, you can follow this link:

So far, our professional webinars have engaged 251 attendees from a variety of sectors. If you are a One Okaloosa EDC investor and you or your colleagues have expertise to share that would be considered timely and relevant, please reach out. We would be glad to consider you for a future webinar!
Members in the News
Bit-Wizards, for the 12th year in a row, brought home a record-breaking number of American Advertising Awards at the local competition level. The ADDYs are the largest and most representative competition in the advertising industry, recognizing and rewarding the creative spirit of excellence in the art of advertising.

Northwest Florida State College has been named a Military Friendly School with a Gold Distinction by The Military Friendly School designation is evaluated each year by using public data and responses from a proprietary survey. Final ratings are calculated by combining the institution’s survey scores with the institution’s ability to meet minimum thresholds for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment, and loan default rates for student veterans.

Congratulations to Hand Arendall Harrison Sale, LLC on their BEST IN DESTIN Award. Attorneys Leslie Sheekley and Nathan Cordle accepted the BEST IN DESTIN LAW FIRM Award on behalf of Hand Arendall Harrison Sale at the March 20, 2022 gala.

ERA Real Estate Fuel is an annual three-day international convention featuring opportunities for certification, learning, awards and recognition. Congratulations to ERA American Real Estate for bringing home multiple team, leadership and organizational awards from this year’s convention!

Welcome New Members
Sentinel Landscape Strenthen's Military Readiness

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, comprised of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Interior (DOI) has announced three new areas designated as sentinel landscapes, where natural and working lands thrive alongside military installations and ranges. These landscapes play a key role in strengthening the nation’s military readiness while addressing natural resources concerns like climate change and endangered species.
The Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape is one of those three new sentinel landscapes designations. The Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape contains rural and agricultural lands, iconic longleaf pine forests, threatened and endangered species habitat and nine key DoD facilities, which are integral to U.S. Air Force training, weapons testing and special operations and also provide initial training to all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators. Partners will focus on addressing resilience and sustainability challenges; retain working agriculture and forest lands as compatible, resilient and sustainable land uses; increase the resilience and sustainability of natural systems by conserving and restoring habitat and water resources; and identify, implement and accelerate projects that mitigate coastal risks and increase the climate resilience of military installations and the landscapes that overlap mission footprints. 
Current Topics Blog
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
Leslie Sheekley, Chair; Jillian McQueen, Vice Chairman; Chad Vuyovich, Treasurer; Mile Mosley, Secretary; Neko Stubblefield, Member-at-Large; Lee Lewis, 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
Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success
Emily Ferrandini, Administrative Assistant
Linda Sumblin, TeCMEN Manager
Monica Early, Event Coordinator
Sal Nodjomian, TCPI Consultant
Penny Mercer, Accounting Department
Post Office Box 4097
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549