After a banner year in 2017, the Florida West Economic Development Alliance is looking ahead to more successes in 2018. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody kicks off a two-part report – first up -- the year past.
Chief Executive Officer Scott Luth says it was a good year overall laying groundwork. The one issue that stands out to him is the Bluffs Industrial Campus – which received $3.1 million from the state for site connectivity and infrastructure improvements.
“The current dollars that we’re looking at will allow us to finish pretty much all of the utility alignment; road alignments, and engineering packages for the industrial boulevard that will run down the middle of the park.”
Elsewhere, Florida West updated their websites, resources and materials, along with expanding content on targeted industries, workforce data and market access. Another goal met, says Luth, is linking the economy, to the increase in Florida’s high-tech footprint.
“When we talk about laying that groundwork, [Florida West’s] cybersecurity initiative really kind of comes to mind,” said Luth. “That’s how we’re tying into the overall strategy for the State of Florida as well as locally, making sure that we’re supporting and developing and growing the high-tech industries and innovative-type industries here for our community.”
Another success story for 2017 came in the area of education – the ground zero of any business operation.
“Over this past year, we really saw career academies launched in our school system; Pensacola State, really came on board and [we] really began to see some great results out of those programs,” said Luth. “And some of the designation that was received by UWF, and the program that it has around cybersecurity.”
One of the highlights in 2017 was a forum at the University of West Florida, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Eman El-Sheikh -- Director of the Center for Cybersecurity at UWF – says a major step a community can take is is to join forces against the cyber bad guys.
“Our business, our government, our military, our educational partners, and find out how we can continue to grow more interest and awareness in cybersecurity and the great career opportunities that we have right here,” said El-Sheikh.
UWF is designated by the National Security Agency and Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence, along with the Cybersecurity Hub for the Southeast.
“One of the things that we’d like to do is continue to develop flexible pathways and innovative programs that will help address the workforce needs, and produce the next generation of cybersecurity leaders,” said El-Sheikh.
But perhaps the crown jewel of economic development in northwest Florida for now is the construction of the VT-Mobile Aerospace Engineering plant next to Pensacola International Airport.
“Things are going pretty well; we’re pretty much on target,” said company President Bill Hafner. “Looks like we’re going to meet our objective of March 20, which is our substantial completion date; followed shortly thereafter by issue of a Certificate of Occupancy. We’re anticipating operations to commence in early May, our first actual maintenance operations.”
Between those dates, there will be equipment purchase and installation; moving in tools from Mobile, and getting materials in place. Hafner adds that except for site manager – who will transfer from Mobile -- they’re looking to fill almost every other job.
“Aircraft mechanics; avionics technicians, structural mechanics, interior mechanics,” said Hafner. “We’re looking for stores people, dock control and planning people; everything it takes to run the facility. There are opportunities in all areas.”
“[VT-MAE] have been very pleased so far with the interest and going to work for the company,” Luth said. “We’re very excited to see that operation actually moving to production and hopefully having our first aircraft in 2018.”
Florida West’s Scott Luth also points to the announcement in December, that Virginia-based VetFed Resources – which serves veterans seeking medical disability services – will open an office in Pensacola, creating about 20 new jobs.
In our next report, the challenges on tap in 2018 for economic development, and for Florida West.