By ALICIA LEONARD
Sometimes goods ideas are know to happen concurrently by different people in different places. Such was the beginning oft the new Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA). DeFuniak Spring City Manager Kim Kirby, Mayor Harold Carpenter and Councilman James Huffman wanted advice from neighboring Jackson County about how they lured big business to set up shop there. At the same time, other mover and shakers in the local political arena, such as Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander, were thinking about the same thing. In the end, all came together to form the WCEDA.
Comander, who is the chairperson for the WCEDA, said, “It started in two separate points and the points came together. Kim and I and Ronnie Bell, as well as James Huffman, traveled to Jackson County on a fact-finding mission. The second time we went back with an even larger group. I then became aware that we had to get the cities in Walton County, as well as the county, on the same page for us to make progress.”
She said the goal of the group is to promote the entire county as a whole instead of in-fighting between different cities in the county for new business and growth. “Say, if we have a factory that wants to develop in Freeport, with this alliance our other cities won’t fight over this business and we can move forward in promoting all cities in the County,” said Comander. “Any business in, just as an example, Freeport will have a positive impact on citizens throughout the county. We all need to be on the same page. We all benefit. That’s what our intralocal agreement is about between out cities and the county.”
Kirby said it’s a dream come true for DeFuniak and she glad to have been in on the ground floor, “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for our county as a whole and Rep. Don Brown really got the door open for us to meet with our counterparts in Jackson County.”
The group has support from all three mayors and has drawn business, education and political leaders from throughout the county, as well as the support of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners and the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce. The WCEDA has just incorporated, formed a group of directors, made a strategic plan and are looking to hire a director for the group in the future.
Comander said readiness is all. “We have to be ready for opportunities as they come our way and we want to bring the income levels up for all our residents. Education and planning play a big part in that. It is paramount that we are ready and out there pursuing these companies that will offer year-round employment to our citizens and a better living wage.”
Comander said, “We have to be willing to put on our ‘big boy pants’ and make this happen.”