By Deborah Buckhalter, Jackson County Floridian
Stan Connally dropped a news bomb near the end of his talk Friday at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce power lunch — the Gulf Power president announced plans to help create six training academies in the Panhandle to teach skills needed for work in the manufacturing sector.
Connally is helping steer a Panhandle alliance which aims to make the region more competitive in attracting worldwide manufacturing concerns to set up shop here and put people to work. That’s been known for some time. The alliance wants to help set up the training academies between here and Pensacola over time.
Gulf Power is also a driving force behind a related effort—the certification of 11 Panhandle sites as essentially shovel-ready for development. Three of those are in Jackson County, and include land near the Family Dollar Distribution Center, another near the State Road 71 interstate ramp, and a third site near the Marianna Municipal Airport. Working with a world-recognized consultant to get those certified can make those sites more marketable too potential manufacturing concerns as essentially shovel-ready for start up. With most permitting issues, environmental studies and other preliminary having already been taken care of in the certification process, the sites could be more attractive to companies looking for a place to get up and running quickly.
Attracting manufacturers is a key element in the critical need to diversify the local economy, he said.
He estimated that 15,000 manufacturing jobs will be available in the state over the next five years, while tourism might generate 63,000 in the same time period. Manufacturing jobs can command salaries of $60,000 on average, while in tourism the average is around $20,000. While tourism is important and ultimately might generate more jobs in the state over the next five years, it’s seasonal and very dependent on the economy from year to year. In the manufacturing sector, the establishment of one business can generate other start-ups that bring other jobs, as well, he pointed out.
Connally wasn’t alone in bringing that diversity message to the Chamber guests Friday. He had a fellow guest speaker. Taking the podium ahead of him was David Christian, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Christian also talked about the importance of expanding the scope of local economies, but focused on an overview of his organization’s lobbying efforts in support of legislative actions that can help small, medium and large business concerns thrive in the Florida sunshine. He talked also about the importance of embracing educational curriculum policies that help students, from pre-K forward, prepare to manage their personal finances, gain marketable workplace skills in the fields of science, technology and other areas that prepare them to take high-paying jobs perhaps right out of high school.
Both men spoke of the importance of people working together within their communities and across county borders to make this region more attractive to job-producing businesses.