When communities come together as a region to work toward a common goal, they can achieve great things.

For a shining example, you don’t need to look any further than the diverse counties of Northwest Florida, which just marked the six-month anniversary of an extraordinary effort to transform our region’s economic future.

It was remarkable that more than 120 leaders from across the region came together at an event to celebrate progress made in implementing the Northwest Florida FORWARD strategic initiative. When that plan was launched in February, few could have foreseen the extent of regional cooperation that has generated such positive discussion and engagement across county lines.

These leaders from economic, political, civic, business, workforce development, education and other fields acknowledged how exceptional it is to sustain so much enthusiasm and momentum long after the initial burst of excitement has passed.

Speaker after speaker cited the ongoing dialog as a clear indication that Northwest Florida truly speaks with one voice to advance the area’s economy.

The efforts to advance the FORWARD initiative are energized by the work of numerous individuals organized through five key councils — Talent, Business Vitality, Infrastructure, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Quality of Place — who have been charged to carefully assess the economic climate and tools of our region and consider how best to utilize them for regional impact.

There is clear excitement and anticipation as the Triumph Gulf Coast board begins developing its process for awarding grants from $300 million in BP oil spill money targeted for economic diversification, and we hope it will utilize Northwest Florida FORWARD as a framework for identifying impactful initiatives that will transform the region. Thanks to these two separate activities, our region now has a long-term vision and road map, as well as the resources to get us there.

At the Northwest Florida FORWARD gathering in Niceville, Gulf Power Company Chairman, President and CEO Stan Connally noted how the attendees’ ongoing involvement sets FORWARD apart from most strategic plans. Nowhere else in the state, he said, have 13 counties come together as a unified entity to move forward in the same positive direction.

State Rep. Mel Ponder, a former Destin mayor, reminded the gathering that success will require working together — as he phrased it, “recognizing that we’re not each other’s competition.”

His House colleague, Rep. Frank White, said the broad regional support of the FORWARD process, paired with a smooth startup of Triumph, will show lawmakers from the rest of the state that “we’ve got a plan, and we’re executing on it.”

The cooperation we have seen across Northwest Florida over the past six months is a monumental achievement. But Florida’s Great Northwest, the regional economic development organization behind the FORWARD initiative, has bigger plans in sight.

Transforming a regional economy will no doubt be a gradual process, but we know these efforts will result in a vastly better region than we see today.

The vibrant Northwest Florida of the future will be indebted to the hard work of those laying the groundwork — visionary individuals who had the foresight and ambition to act now.

To join us in this effort today, visit NorthwestFloridaForward.com to learn how.

Kim Wilmes is president and CEO of Florida’s Great Northwest, the regional economic development organization representing the Florida Panhandle’s counties.

The organization serves as the unified voice for Northwest Florida through advocacy, collaboration and promotion of the 12-county area as a top business location.

FGNW has helped lead the Northwest Florida FORWARD initiative, a regional strategy focused on driving economic vitality and growth in Northwest Florida.