By BEN GRAFTON
The June 6 meeting of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance Board (WCEDA) meeting opened with the presentation of the financial report by Board Member Laurie Kelley.
Following Kelley’s report, Board Chair County Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen introduced Art Miller of the Institute of Senior Professionals (ISP), an organization of mostly retired professionals sponsored by Northwest Florida State College. ISP does pro bono consulting work for government and not-for-profit organizations in Okaloosa and Walton counties. Miller presented highlights from a report prepared for WCEDA to provide analysis and guidance for its economic development efforts in Walton County. Miller made these points:
The EDA strategic plan for economic development should be revised to include prioritized specific goals and activities. The goals and activities should be relevant and realistic, specific, measurable, achievable and time bound.
A SWOT Analysis which looks at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats should also be prepared.
In neighboring counties both public and private sector funds support aggressive economic development policy. The annual budgets and staffs of their economic development offices are more than twice those in Walton County. Accountability should be established. Reports of the number of new permanent jobs produced and the return on investment for stakeholders (government and private sector) should be published.
Certified, shovel ready sites should be developed (Walton County is moving in this direction in a cooperative program with Gulf Power Company) and, while it is not WCEDA’s role to manage the permitting process, it should encourage the county to streamline the building permit process which is said to be widely criticized.
Okaloosa and Bay County economic development leaders believe their websites are the most important vehicles they have to attract attention. Keeping the website fresh with information about the organization, development sites, the local workforce and reasons to locate to their county is critical. (WCEDA has an active program underway to upgrade its website.)
In addition to these points the report includes a list of 25 ideas and opportunities to stimulate economic development.
Following Miller’s presentation Director Steve Jaeger said he thinks the ISP report comes at a good time and that he will review the recommendations and draw on them in preparing a strategic plan.
Jaeger continued by outlining his current plans to have introductory and exploratory meetings with local companies and business leaders. Included are planned sessions with the St. Joe Company, the Walton Area Chamber, Dr. David Goetsch and Florida’s Great Northwest.
Jaeger also announced that WCEDA will pay its $2,750 share of the cost to work with Gulf Power to have Phase II of the Mossy Head Industrial Park certified as ready for industrial development.
Board Attorney Clay Atkinson informed the board that the Freeport industrial site purchase by Terhaar & Cronley is moving forward.
Board Member Freeport Mayor Mickey Marse informed the board that WCEDA’s offer of $250,000 to purchase a new property for the Freeport Industrial Park was met by a counter offer of $325,000 by the bank. The board approved making a revised offer of $275,000 to the bank.
Because of the Independence Day holiday, the next regular meeting of the EDA Board was rescheduled for 12 p.m. on July 2.