SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month

Northwest Florida jobs: Attracting talent is multifaceted challenge

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANDESTIN — Later this year, for the second consecutive summer, Okaloosa County will be targeting visitors to this area as potential members of the future local workforce.

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County (EDC), told a group of area business people, elected officials and economic development professionals Thursday that local funding has been allocated to the “talent attraction portal” on the EDC website.

The portal’s centerpiece is a jobs board listing currently available positions across the county, but it also includes information on the local education and health care systems, along with information on transitioning from military to civilian careers.

? RELATED: Early preparation key to economic development, experts tell Gulf Power symposium audience

Last year the portal, funded by a grant from Gulf Power, operated for eight days during the summer. In that time, it attracted 776 “clicks” from people apparently interested in considering a job in the area, Sparks said.

“We think that’s pretty good,” Sparks told the hundreds of people gathered at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort for the 2020 Gulf Power Economic Symposium. The annual two-day event, now in its 23rd year, is designed to update attendees on Florida’s economic picture and provide information on economic development and opportunities for networking.

Sparks said the portal provides the EDC with the digital addresses of people who visit it, providing the opportunity for continued communication from the EDC with those people about job opportunities in the area.

? RELATED: Economist: Coronavirus will have limited economic impact on Florida

Part of the EDC’s goal with the portal, Sparks explained, is to attract people with skills and experience in industries such as health care and aerospace technology, jobs with salaries “that move the needle from an average wage standpoint” in comparison with other employment.

In other comments Thursday, Sparks said Okaloosa County’s 2.3% unemployment rate, the lowest in Northwest Florida, isn’t all good news.

“That means that businesses looking to hire are having a difficult time,” Sparks said. “Our employers need people today and preparing the pipeline for tomorrow takes time.”

Sparks was part of a symposium panel looking at strategies for attracting workforce talent to the area. Also on the panel were Glen McDonald, vice president of strategic projects and economic development at Gulf Coast State College, Kimberly Krupa, executive director of Achieve Escambia, which works in Escambia County with educators, elected officials and others on “cradle to career” issues, and Kelly Reeser, manager of TechFarms, a technology incubator in Panama City Beach.

Given the area’s heavy military presence, McDonald advocated strategies aimed at being more accommodating to military spouses and keeping military personnel transitioning out of the service in the area.

One resource that employers can now consider, McDonald said, is a list of transitioning military personnel now released quarterly by the Air Force.

Krupa worked Thursday to convince the audience that investing in improving the quality of the future workforce makes economic sense.

“Growing talent — it’s not charity, it’s smart business,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure no person goes to waste.”

Reeser took time Thursday to get symposium attendees thinking about how to attract and keep young talent in their communities.

In the digital era, Reeser said, talented young people “can work from anywhere, so (their) choice is, ’Where do I want to live?”

Along that line, Thursday’s symposium sessions included a panel featuring two area real estate professionals.

“Spend the money making your city great and trust me, they’ll come,” said Andrew Rothfeder, president of Studer Properties, which focuses on commercial development in downtown Pensacola. Urban revitalization has been transformative in the city, creating a vibrant live, work and play environment. But, Rothfeder cautioned, “you can’t sit back and wait for government to do it.”

Echoing Rothfeder, area developer Jay Odom said citizen involvement is particularly important in moving local governments toward adapting regulations to move communities toward “what real communities need to be.”

Like Rothfeder, Odom looks beyond his own ideas in developing communities such as his Hammock Bay development in Freeport. Instead, he said, he paid attention during family travels to his 4- and 5-year-old sons.

“What they liked we did, what they didn’t like, we didn’t do,” he said.

Recognizing the challenges of economic development can be daunting, organizers of this year’s Gulf Power Economic Symposium included Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter jet pilot, on the program.

The author of “Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck,” Lohrenz took her audience through the process of operating from an aircraft carrier.

Noting that getting aircraft on and off an aircraft carrier is a team exercise, Lohrenz told symposium attendees that their work isn’t necessarily any less challenging.

“We’re no different than you,” she said. “We are over-tasked, and usually under-resourced.”

Lohrenz also told her audience not to worry if they don’t have everything about an economic development strategy or other challenges figured out.

“You don’t have to have it all figured,” she said. “Eighty percent is good enough to meet 100% of your goals.”

Lohrenz left the audience with a final piece of advice for facing their fears.

“Just do one thing every day that puts a little pit in your stomach, or a lump in your throat,” she said.