If the state House has its way, Enterprise Florida will cease to exist in the next couple of months, and the Florida Defense Alliance will follow it into oblivion.
The Defense Alliance, the parent organization for county or regional Defense Alliances across the state, prides itself on work it has done to protect the state’s 20 military bases from encroachment and possible closure.
House leaders, though, say the agency is expendable, as its task is basically the same as the one performed by the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
“The Florida Defense alliance was eliminated in HB 7005 because it's redundant and all its functions are currently being done, and then some, by the Florida Defense Support Task Force,” Fred Piccolo, spokesman for Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, said in an email.
Alliance officials and members of Northwest Florida organizations that work with it disagree with the redundancy argument put forth by House leadership.
Former Florida Defense Support Task Force Chairman David Goetsch said Corcoran and his cohorts don’t know what they’re talking about.
“Thinking they’re redundant shows the Speaker doesn’t understand the roles of the two organizations,” Goetsch said. “That’s not surprising, the Speaker doesn’t seem to understand a lot of things.”
Goetsch compared the differences between the Florida Defense Alliance and the Florida Defense Support Task Force to those of a Chamber of Commerce and an Economic Development Counsel. The EDC recruits big new industries, while the Chamber protects the smaller existing ones, he said.
“The Florida Defense Alliance is the state organization at the head of “a bunch of county organizations” Goetsch said. “The Task Force has a strong presence in Washington D.C., employing a full-time lobbyist to keep the state appraised of things like BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure). It works with the Florida Legislature to make Florida a more defense friendly state.”
Goetsch said the roles of the Defense Alliance and the Defense Support Task Force “overlap” in areas where the task force would take an issue at a particular base to Washington on the Defense Alliance’s behalf.
In a guest column written for a newspaper in Homestead, Defense Alliance Chairwoman Kelly Jo Kilbert termed the Defense Alliance “the first line of defense to prevent encroachment to Florida’s military installations.”
The alliance includes representatives of defense-related organizations, politicians on the local, state and federal levels, and economic development organizations, Kilbert said.
“We work to preserve the test, training, and maneuver areas in Florida that ensure combat readiness and keep bases in the state,” Kilbert said. “Our members remind local and state governments that development around installations needs to be compatible with the military mission and not encroach upon the military’s ability to train for combat.”
As an example of the influence the Defense Alliance exerts, Kilbert pointed to Okaloosa County’s Hurlburt Field flyover, a project in which the Florida Department of Transportation was enlisted to help “enhance partnerships with communities near and around military installations and develop economic diversification in those areas along with promoting base efficiencies.”
“This organization and our members have been the foundation keeping the State of Florida moving forward in addressing the needs of our military communities,” Kilbert said. “Now is not the time to step back on our support for our military communities when others states are stepping up their game and investing more.”