Florida’s Great Northwest, UWF partner on economic strategy

  • July 15, 2016
  • /   staff reports
  • /   economy

Florida’s Great Northwest has been awarded a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Adjustment Assistance grant, in partnership with and under administration of University of West Florida, to develop an economic diversification strategy for Northwest Florida.

Therese Baker, executive vice president of Florida's Great Northwest, said the grant award was for $334,508. Public engagement will be part of the process, but Baker said what form that would take has yet to be determined.

"We will know more about the structure of the public input as we bring a consultant onboard," she said by email. "We anticipate some public meetings but may explore other methods as well."

The strategy development process will include stakeholders in 13 counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Washington, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf and Wakulla. The plan will develop a regional strategy to diversify the region's economy.

The product of this work will be used by regional stakeholders to guide the development of programs, partnerships and investments to execute that strategy.

The Haas Center at the University of West Florida will lead the next phase of this process, completing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis of the region, including an economic and demographic assessment, literature review of existing strategic plans and studies, and industry and entrepreneurial ecosystem analyses.

Zachary Jenkins, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida

Zachary Jenkins, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida

“The EDA grant enables us to look deeper than ever before into the region’s data to uncover the subtle factors that drive the Northwest Florida economy,” said Zach Jenkins, director of the Haas Center.  “Understanding how each local piece fits into the region’s economy will be critical to forming a plan that has the best chance of success.

"We are thrilled that the EDA has given Northwest Florida this unique opportunity and honored to be part of such an important project,” Jenkins said.

Recognizing the need to have a unified approach for economic growth, Florida’s Great Northwest began convening its partners (local, regional and state) in late 2015 to talk about the regional economic landscape.

“Northwest Florida has a great need – now more than ever – to go through a deliberately inclusive process of building a data-driven, actionable, regional economic transformation strategy,” said Kim Wilmes, president and CEO of Florida’s Great Northwest. “We are at a critical juncture in time and have the opportunity to plan how best to grow the region. Now is the time to ensure our future economic success.”

Preliminary work has begun on the project with efforts ramping up over the next several months, which will include an opportunity for public engagement.

The strategy development team will also engage a recognized leader in regional economic transformation strategy to help develop tools to track success.