‘QUALITY GROWTH’: Area chambers, EDC create economic development plan for Okaloosa County

Matt Algarin

The battle cry of economic development is one that's been ringing loud and clear in Destin for quite some time, and now that Okaloosa County has completed its strategic economic development plan, it's time to get to work.

"For Destin, we need to be sure we create and maintain this as a great place to live," said Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's not about growth, it's about quality growth."

The Destin Area Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County to create a three-year strategic economic development plan based on the Florida Chamber Foundation's Six Pillars process.

The plan, which was almost two years in the making, focuses on 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 places.

The plan calls for a greater focus on education and job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and medical fields, otherwise known as STEAMM. This would ideally be done through a collaboration with local workforce development, university and college systems, and local K-12 education systems.

"We now have something that every community and every organization can look to as a guide for moving Okaloosa County and our respective communities forward," Moody said.

Although there have been a myriad of community oriented plans put together in the past, Kevin Bowyer, who served as the chairman, told The Log that none of them have been purely focused on Okaloosa County solely.

"I would characterize this process as a monumental undertaking," he said, adding that the next step is for the various six pillar committees, or caucuses as they are called, to start putting the plan into action. "Vital to this will be getting each caucus to meet and continue to recruit caucus members."

Since the BP oil spill in 2010, community leaders have long called for diversifying the economy in Destin beyond the hospitality and tourism industries. Both city councilmen and members of the chamber of commerce have called for the creation of high skill and high-wage jobs as a means of growing Destin's job market.

Moody said it's crucial for communities to work together and keep the economy from becoming "stagnant and stale." This can be accomplished, he said, by creating an environment where businesses can start, grow and expand.

"Quality of life begins with a great place to live and a great place to work," he said. "Quality economic development plans help diversify communities and provide the jobs and tax base communities need to create a quality of place."

To read Okaloosa County's strategic plan visit www.destinchamber.com.