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Florida West Joins Global Economic Development Observance

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Organizations across the United States are banding together this week to increase awareness of jobs and career development programs that enhance local economic impact. Florida West is among them.

This is National Economic Development Week, with the spotlight on just what such agencies do in their community or region. It’s the third annual observance, which was begun by the International Economic Development Council -- the largest professional membership organization for economic developers.

“It’s a program that really started with [IEDC] to really increase the awareness of those groups and organizations that have a focus on creating jobs, and helping to increase wealth in the community,” said Scott Luth, Executive Director of Florida West, an alliance of public and private agencies, businesses, organizations and leaders serving the Panhandle.

Economic development is defined as the programs and policies aiding in job creation, retention and expansion.

“That’s the primary focus of economic development,” Luth said. “They also are focused on the development of a stable tax base, as well as the enhancement of wealth. And that really meets the formal definition of what economic development is and its primary purpose.”

That strategy, says Luth, parallels what’s in the Florida West playbook.

“Through Florida West and some of our counterparts across the region, Santa Rosa County Economic Development; or Okaloosa Economic Development, we really all have that same mission,” said Luth. “We have a great partnership with Florida’s Great Northwest, which is our regional economic development entity; then of course our state partners, [Department of Economic Opportunity] and Enterprise Florida.”

Partnering with public and private entities, they do a variety of work connected with economic development throughout northwest Florida. Topping the list is the support of existing businesses. Another focus is luring companies to set up shop.

“One of the unique things we’re focused on a Florida West is actually running and managing the Co:Lab,  which is our small business incubator, helping companies actually grow,” said Luth. “What ties all of that together is a lot of our workforce initiatives to make sure we have an available workforce that supports those high-growth and high-wage target industry sectors.”

One feather in the Florida West cap is the new VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering facility adjacent to Pensacola International Airport, which is set to open in a few weeks. Getting the plant, says Luth, was a long-term process: six and a half years.

“That’s not uncommon for a project that size,” Luth said. “When you have an international company such as Singapore Technologies selecting Pensacola as their next location, it really provides that additional credibility and support when you’re out there actually talking to other companies.”

When you boil down the numbers, jobs, impact and the other tangibles, Luth says economic development is also a quality of life issue.

“If we don’t continue to bring new jobs to the community or keep the jobs we currently have, then what we’re doing is training our citizens to go someplace else,” said Luth.

While Florida West itself has a relatively small staff, Executive Director Scott Luth says working with their strategic partners enables them to excel and expand their various projects.

“Economic development is always a team sport,” said Florida West’s Scott Luth. “Our City of Pensacola plays a role; Escambia County is a significant partner. One of our most critical partners is our workforce development partners – from [the University of West Florida], Pensacola State, to the Escambia County School District. And then our workforce development agency, which is CareerSource EscaRosa.”

More information about Economic Development Week is at the IEDC website. More on how economic development affects quality of life in the Panhandle, visit Florida West online.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.