Business leaders kick off Six Pillars effort

Dusty Ricketts | Northwest Florida Daily News

Okaloosa County business and community leaders are coming together to formulate a strategic path designed to bring more jobs and growth.

The chambers of commerce in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville/Valparaiso and Crestview are partnering with the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council to get the county designated a Six Pillars community.

The EDC hosted a symposium Wednesday morning at the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort dedicated to the Six Pillars initiative. More than 150 people attended.

“It wasn’t intended to impress upon each community that this is the Six Pillars — you will do it this way, you will make sure you address every single one of these issues regardless of if they are relevant to your community or not,” said Bentina Terry, vice president of external affairs at Gulf Power, who was the keynote speaker. “It’s not run out of Tallahassee. It’s run here and it’s the things that are important to you. It’s the area you want to see, the places you want to go, and it just provides a framework for how you might be able to get there.”

The Six Pillars initiative was developed by the Florida Chamber Foundation as a way for each county, region or statewide organization to increase and diversify their economic development. The initiative requires each community create a specific strategic plan to chart out its growth and develop ways to get there.

“All of this is stuff we kind of already do as part of our everyday business, but moving this community forward as a Six Pillars community is a part of our everyday business,” Terry said. “We look at objectives and goals. We set a plan to get there. We check our progress along the way. We set up committees to make sure that we’re getting where we are, and you’re constantly checking to see if you’re getting there and you should constantly be moving the goal post if we’re getting there too soon.

“It’s really just the framework so we can all have the same conversation in the same context,” Terry added.

Six Pillars would be Okaloosa County’s first county-wide strategic plan for economic development. The pillars are talent supply and education, innovation and economic development, infrastructure and growth leadership, business climate and competitiveness, civic and governance systems, and quality of life and quality of places.

Okaloosa’s movement to become a Six Pillars-certified county started as with the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce about four years ago. Chamber President and CEO Shane Moody spearheaded the work, but he eventually realized the project was too big for just his chamber. Moody eventually was able to get the other chambers and EDC involved.

The next step is to create a strategic plan. The Destin chamber has contracted with St. Peter’s College Collaborative Labs to assist with the effort, and a public meeting is scheduled for March 21 to discuss what should be included.

A time and location had not been finalized as of Wednesday.

“It’s up to the people involved (to make sure the strategic plan doesn’t set on a shelf when it’s finished),” Moody said. “Strategic plans don’t sit on the shelf because one person puts it up there and lets it sit there. Things don’t get followed up on by the group as a whole, and that’s why. This is going to be something that the entire community and the entire county has to continue to push forward. You do that by having other meetings, other sessions to keep everybody up to date and to keep them accountable to what they want to get done.”

St. Peter’s work to develop the plan will cost $30,000. The chambers and EDC have collected about $10,000 from local businesses already and are looking for donations to help cover the rest of the cost. Anyone interested in donating can contact Moody at the Destin chamber at 837-6241.