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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium

Governor Rick Scott addresses attendees at Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium on Tuesday, October 3, 2017.

I was fortunate to be able to attend Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium over the past several days in Sandestin.  There were numerous highlights to mention over the past several days--to include an address to the group by Florida Governor Rick Scott this morning.


Day 1 began with a welcome from Stan Connally, CEO of Gulf Power.  He gave remarks to the crowd of about 400 regarding the many positive attributes our region has for growing jobs and improving our economy.  He asked that just for a couple of days that we all think regionally, forgetting about the county boundaries that make up NorthWest Florida.

The featured speaker Monday morning was author and speaker Peter Zeihan.  His written works include The Accidental Superpower and  The Absent Superpower.  His speech on the state of the world from an economic/geopolitical standpoint was fascinating.  The crowd was intrigued by his humorous delivery of a serious subject.  The primary take away from Zeihan's speech was that by 2030, due to a number of factors, America will be among the world's most stable nations economically.
Peter Zeihan's projected global security map, circa 2030...America looking good!
 Next up, Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson hosted a round table of NW Florida entrepreneurs, including two paper producers, a software company, and a personal watercraft company. According to Wilson, a recent survey of the NW Florida population revealed that 81% of respondents feel like Florida is headed in the right direction.  "Florida is America's jobs machine, 1 in 10 new jobs in the U.S. today is being created right here in Florida!" Wilson told the crowd.  One of the entrepreneurs on the panel, Corey Cooper, president and CEO of BOTE (a personal watercraft manufacturer)-summed up the story of his company's success. "I am passionate about selling a lifestyle, and being from here and loving the beach it is easy to sell this." he told the group. On employee issues, he was blunt in his assessment "I want people that want to come in and work hard, I want them to work their ass off like I do!" In just 8 years--his company has gone from selling paddle-boards being hand-built one by one in Corey's garage to manufacturing boards currently being sold in more than 100 outlets around the country.

Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning addresses the audience at the 21st Economic Symposium sponsored by Gulf Power.

Later in the afternoon, Southern Company president Tom Fanning treated the crowd to a very eye-opening lecture about energy and energy security in today's marketplace.  Fanning was extremely optimistic on the idea of America now becoming energy independent.  "America, on energy, now has the ability to dominate".  Fanning also decried accounts from a recent book that said America's energy infrastructure is vulnerable to natural disasters and the "there is no contingency plan in the event something catastrophic occurs."  He disputed that in terse fashion.  "That characterization is garbage!"  He described his work in energy and also in government as a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  " I have a top secret clearance due to the nature of the work I do with the Fed, and I won't reveal anything here that I shouldn't, but believe me, the energy industry is constantly preparing to defend against threats and we are prepared"  He went on to discuss the revolution in shale-oil technology and he strongly denounced those who believe that oil under $100.00 a barrel is a bad thing.  "That view is garbage!"

Later in the afternoon, a panel of local education leaders from the NW Florida area described many of the contributions their respective organizations make to the local economy.  UWF's President, Martha Saunders, described the newest UWF initiative, the Innovation Institute.  She also gave a brief PowerPoint presentation describing the amount of money UWF generates (payroll and student spending) and how this money multiplies five-fold through the local economy.


After Breakfast on day two, we had a short introduction to the day by Governor Rick Scott.  His remarks were incredibly brief, but he expressed significant appreciation to Gulf Power for all of their assistance with hurricane recovery and power re-connection in South Florida post-Hurricane Irma.  He also quickly gave the highlights of jobs growth in Florida.  "Florida is creating 20,000 jobs every month, the highest rate in the nation.  We should be creating all the jobs in the U.S. because so many people want to come here to live" he told the enthusiastic audience.  After some brief remarks, he quickly left the stage and the area.

Zach Jenkins, the Director of the Haas Center at UWF, gave an interesting presentation on the economic health of the region as a whole.  Some areas are doing better than others, but as a whole, the average salaries of our MSA are below the average of most others in the U.S.--at just over $48K (including benefits).  According to Jenkins, the low cost of living, the beaches, and the quality of life in our area are intangible benefits local employees receive locally that serve to also keep the salaries lower than other areas.  One of his data slides broke down the economic impact of various segments of the economy that his center tracks, it was interesting to see the breakdown.

Zach Jenkins from UWF's Haas Center showed the group the various selected job sectors in our region and the average salary such segment supports..

The final panel of the afternoon consisted of several site location specialists from around the country.  These folks work for large clients that are looking to expand.  The largest, most important challenge these people mentioned was the quality of employees.  One of the panelist even said some of her client corporations will exclude locations--even locations that offer tax incentives--if the workforce is not perceived to be viable for the company.  Other factors that are important to site selectors are the local economies, the quality of life of such areas, availability of mass-transit, proximity to rail and international airport facilities.  Interestingly, at least two of the panelists said that some communities they contact on behalf of clients looking to relocate actually remove themselves from consideration--by simply not answering the requests for information.

Overall, the day and a half conference was very informative and the speakers chosen were varied and provided lots of good perspective on many big issues in our economy today.  I look forward to next year's symposium!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome, glad you were able to be with Governor Scott especially.