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

Is it just me, or does time seem to speed up this time of year?  It is truly hard to believe that Thanksgiving is now less than a week out and - in the blink of an eye - Hanukkah, Christmas and a brand new year will be squarely upon us.  Of course, like many organizations, our “new year” actually began on October 1 as we transitioned to FY 2023 – which many of you helped us celebrate at a festive reception held at the Hilton Garden Inn on October 24. We especially appreciate this year’s event sponsors - FPL, Hand Arendall Harrison Sale, AVCON, Boeing, Eglin Federal Credit Union, Okaloosa Gas and the Hilton Garden Inn. 

In addition to thanking outgoing leaders like Leslie Sheekley (Hand Arendall Harrison Sale) for her steadfast leadership as One Okaloosa’s Chair, Lee Lewis (AVCON) for his many years of service on our Executive Committee and Nic Dezinski (Vertex Solutions) for the tireless commitment he brought to the role of TeCMEN Chair, the event also afforded us the opportunity to debut our new community promotional video. Recognizing the power of personal testimonials and stunning visual imagery, the video was purposefully designed for an external audience of business decision makers in select targeted industry sectors around the globe including manufacturing, technology, defense and aviation/aerospace. To our knowledge, this is the first video that has been specifically tailored to highlight Okaloosa County’s overall business climate and value proposition.  We greatly appreciate the contributions of Simona Faroni (GS Gelato), Matt Zimmermann (Beast Code) and Dr. Devin Stephenson (Northwest Florida State College) in helping tell the “Okaloosa County Story”. For those interested in viewing the video, please visit

With FY 2023 now well underway, we’re delighted to welcome Jillian McQueen, Hilton Garden Inn, as our new Chair. A military spouse who originally hails from Canada, Jillian brings both a worldly perspective and a servant’s heart to the role.  Moving into the Vice Chair slot is Chad Vuyovich, i4 Inc., while Dr. Mike Mosley, Rocky Bayou Christian School, now rotates into the position of Treasurer. Neko Stubblefield, Eglin Federal Credit Union (and community champion extraordinaire), steps into the role of Secretary, and last but certainly not least, Nic Dezinski, Vertex Solutions, joins the Executive Committee following a successful stint as TeCMEN Chairman, having been elected Member-at-Large. Speaking of TeCMEN, Holly Karr, Beast Code, was tapped to lead TeCMEN in FY 2023 while “Buffalo” Bob Marinan will thankfully remain as Chair of One Okaloosa’s Defense Support Initiatives (DSI) committee for one more year. In the spirit of the season, please join me in expressing our gratitude to all outgoing One Okaloosa EDC leaders for a job well done and congratulating the capable individuals that have been selected to follow them. 

Defense Support Initiatives
By Bob Marinan, Chairman

For our October meeting the DSI team had the pleasure of meeting the new EDC Chair Jillian McQueen. Welcome to the DSI Jillian!
Also attending was Col Hammill, 96CEG/CC who provided us with an update on the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB. They are very appreciative of the community support they receive as we all work to support the growth of their missions. The Freedom Technology Park being developed by the Jay Odom group just west of the Okaloosa County Courthouse is underway. Also, the West End Re-Development is moving forward and Eglin officials are working with FDOT. Hence, progress is making headway for the selection of the new West Gate location and supporting road infrastructure. The 96th Wing shared that they are preparing to re-engage the Honorary Commander program at Eglin AFB.
If you were unaware, the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed this past summer basically rescinded the 2020 Presidential Executive Order protecting the Eglin Gulf Test & Training Range (EGTTR) from energy development encroachment. There are currently two companion Bills in both the House and the Senate focused on protecting the military range; the “Preserve the EGTTR to Ensure Military Readiness Act”. The DSI has written letters of concern to Senators Rubio and Scott, SECDEF Austin, SECAF Kendall, SASC Inhofe and Reed, Senators Schumer and McConnell, Congresswoman Pelosi, and Congressman McCarthy. We have also implored our local Chambers to also consider letters of support.
Regarding the new Childcare Development Center (CDC) in Crestview, Higher Ground Education is undergoing permitting processes for their development with a ground breaking planned by the New Year; in addition to opening a temporary facility in the near-term. While this has been transpiring, both Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field have been expanding thier existing childcare development centers. More to come! In conjunction with the above efforts, there is an ongoing effort to relieve home childcare facilities from having to meet both DoD certification AND state of Florida certification. We are in support of one certification to suffice for both requirements.
Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network
By Holly Karr, Chair

And just like that, Wham! Autumn temps and crisp air hit the Emerald Coast. Shhhh, nobody say anything. I think it’s going to stay cool and delightful for a while. Kind of like TeCMEN meetings.

Where else in Okaloosa County can you find a very cool and delightful mix of representatives from local technology, manufacturing, and engineering industries with a common goal: Make Okaloosa great for today and tomorrow’s workforce? Only at One Okaloosa TeCMEN!

Last month, for the Federal and State “Manufacturing Month”, our October TeCMEN meeting highlighted three of the many Okaloosa County manufacturing employers and support entities.
  • Fort Walton Machining was the subject of an impressive update by Director of Operations, Tim McDonald. 
  • FloridaMakes, a TeCMEN partner, showed us current and future FloridaMakes opportunities extended to our members by Jolee Martin, their Business Advisor. 
  • Dr. Matthew Schwartz from the University of West Florida provided an update on the Northwest Florida Regional Innovation Engine focused on clean technology.

This month, Doolittle Institute hosted and sponsored the November TeCMEN meeting in Niceville.
  • Mike Edwards, Doolittle Institute’s Director, and Ayesha Haider, their new Technology Transfer Program Manager, shared updates about how the Doolittle Institute identifies and fosters new R&D partnerships, in addition to exciting activities they conduct and coordinate to develop today’s students into tomorrow’s STEM workforce. 
  • Scott Teel, ARFL/RW Chief Engineer, outlined the need for the continued ongoing necessity for the military and civilian partnerships.

It’s these engaging meetings that make me excited to be the TeCMEN Chair. Mostly because I get to say things like, “I’m looking forward to seeing you at the 2023 TeCMEN Industry Day on May 17th at the Destin-Fort Walton Convention Center on Okaloosa Island!”

Have you heard about TeCMEN Industry Day? Check out all the info for exhibiting, getting tickets, and the THREE remaining sponsorships at The website’s online registration makes all of this a breeze and even has links to discounted hotel rooms! Here’s a little-known fact: Companies purchasing the Reception or Signature Event sponsorships receive a booth and 2 attendee passes included for FREE. Yep, I thought that would get your attention.
Business Expansion and Support Team
By Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success

We remain very excited about the land development opportunities at the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite and the Okaloosa Industrial Airpark. However, Northwest Florida is facing a serious lack of available building space – both Commercial and Industrial. With the crunch of demand greatly outpacing supply, Okaloosa County has the highest average asking lease rate of $24.04/sf for Commercial and second highest of $8.60/sf for Industrial.

We receive calls almost daily from real estate brokers in other markets and nationwide site location consultants inquiring about available buildings. For Commercial buildings with available space (not investment properties), sizes range from 800SF to 12,000SF. For Industrial buildings with available space (not investment properties), sizes range from 830SF to 12,000SF. Northwest Florida is a prime market for spec development, especially industrial spec at the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite or Okaloosa Industrial Airpark.
On another note; Workforce problems ailing you? The doctor said, “Hire a Veteran and call me in the morning”. As an Honorary Commander assigned to the 505th Test and Training Group (USAF), I will have the privilege of interacting with hundreds of active duty military members through my tenure as HC. You should be interacting with them, too: as your employee.

Every year, CareerSource Okaloosa Walton conducts TAP (Transition Assistance Program) for military members leaving the Armed Forces. Of the approximately 1,300 transitioning military members annually in Okaloosa County, 60-70% express a desire to remain in Okaloosa County, provided they can find a job when they exit.

Trained and trainable, mission-ready, dependable, drug-free. Come to Okaloosa. You’ll feel better.
Four Panhandle School Districts Awarded Designation to Support Military Families
Four Northwest Florida counties are among 10 statewide to be the first recognized for operating schools designated by Gov. Ron DeSantis as Purple Star Campus Programs.

Military children face issues such as gaps and overlaps in curriculum, different graduation requirements, and social disruption. The Purple Star School program is a state recognition to emphasize the importance of assisting military children with their school transitions.

State Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar, and state Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, sponsored the bills that DeSantis signed into law in 2021 establishing the Florida Purple Star Campus Program.

One Okaloosa's Tri-County Community Partnership Initiative stood up a Purple Star School Task Force in 2021 to address the immediate need of qualifying for and applying for the Florida Purple Star Campus Distinction across the tri-county area.

DeSantis chose Fort Walton Beach High School to make the designation announcement because the Okaloosa County School District, with 5,600 students hailing from military families, has the state's highest number of individual schools — 35 — to receive the Purple Star designation.

In order to attain the Purple Star status, a school is required to meet fairly stringent requirements. Each school must designate a faculty member as a military point of contact, establish a student-led transition program for military students, offer professional development for staff to respond to needs of military students and their families, and reserve at least 5% of open enrollment seats for military students.

Governor DeSantis declared Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties would be the first of the state's Purple Star counties enrolled in what he has dubbed a Purple Star Teacher Leadership Program.

The program will piggy back off both the Purple Star Campus Program designation and advance the governor's plan to get military members certified to teach. Under a law that went into effect July 1, military members can obtain teacher certification without a bachelor's degree if they are honorably discharged after four years of active duty service, have 60 college credits and are working toward a bachelor's degree. 

Under DeSantis' Purple Star School Teacher Leadership Program, the Florida Department of Education will work with Purple Star certified schools in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties to set up their own teacher certification and professional development programs.
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Members in the News
The Boeing Company was ranked #10 out of 200 companies by Forbes’ Magazine for America’s Best Employers for Veterans. Ranking criteria included categories such as career development, reputation, working conditions, salary and wages, and diversity.

Vertex Solutions in Niceville is among the top 50 second-stage companies in Florida selected as a GrowFL 'Florida Companies to Watch' honoree, a statewide competition that identifies companies expected to see significant growth over the next several years.  "Companies to Watch" was developed as a unique way to recognize and honor second-stage companies that demonstrate high performance in the marketplace with innovative strategies and processes.

Okaloosa School District has been recognized for their academic excellence. The Florida State Board of Education recently released the list of Academically High-Performing School Districts for the 2021-2022 school year. OCSD is one of fourteen districts out of sixty-seven to meet the criteria for this designation, along with neighboring Walton and Santa Rosa counties.

Robin Donlon was announced as SmartBank's new Okaloosa market president. Donlon has built up a history of successful relationship management and guidance within the finance and banking sector.

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
Kevin Lovelace, Director of Business Success
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