John Holdnak on Recovering from Hurricane Michael

John Holdnak, President of Gulf Coast State College, sat down with the Florida Chamber Foundation to discuss the impact Hurricane Michael had on the college and their steps following the hurricane to return to working order.

The Gulf Coast State College in Panama City started out as a small junior college. Since it opened in 1957, it has broadened its mission and today offers more than 150 programs and is relied upon by the panhandle to prepare students for the workforce.

On October 10, 2018 Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the Panhandle, came onshore as a Category 4 storm causing catastrophic damage. Mr. Holdnak describes the days following the hurricane.

“Panama City experienced sustained winds of 166 miles an hour and 182 mile an hour gusts of wind, some higher, and if you’re wondering what stands up to that – not much.”


“We are a very resilient group of people and we say that so often I think it may end up becoming cliché but I don’t know a better way to describe a group of people that have been through what has occurred in Northwest Florida, not just in my community, but all the communities around us and up through Florida to the Georgia border.”

The college suffered approximately $44 million in damages and the largest campus with 28 buildings saw damage to every structure. However, despite the severity of the damage, Gulf Coast State College re-opened 27 days after the storm hit

“From the time the storm crossed the coast and we were closed to the time we reopened for classes was 27 days. If you saw the damage that we had at the college, you would be amazed that we could have don’t that.”


“We lost about 8 percent of our enrollment in the fall directly related to the hurricane. That is a phenomenal number because the average in our system historically over the last 25 years or so is about 30 percent a semester if it’s a direct hit.”


On Hurricane Preparedness

“We prepare ahead of time. The colleges in Florida belong to a common risk management consortium. We plan ahead of time to have a company come in and work with us in the event of a natural disaster. They hit the ground running.”


On Challenges That Continue

“Thirty percent of all housing was destroyed or damaged so badly that it’s unlivable for probably six months or more and that’s probably the biggest detriment not only to the college being fully operational but the community being fully operational.”

“We are making progress but that’s the number one impactor on the business community as well as the college.”

Michelle Dennard on the Future of Florida’s Workforce

Michelle Dennard, President & CEO of CareerSource Florida, recently received a prestigious 40 Under 40 Award in economic development, the only award of its kind recognizing young talent among economic development professionals.  In our latest Florida Horizon series, the Florida Chamber Foundation met with Ms. Dennard to discuss the future of Florida, workforce skills, business talent needs and more.

Florida Horizon with Michelle Dennard


CareerSource Florida is the statewide workforce policy and investment board of business and government leaders charged with guiding workforce development for the state of Florida.  When we met with Ms. Dennard, she discussed how important Floridians are to the economic success of their communities.


“What my experience in economic development and workforce development has taught me is the true opportunity we have as economic developers can transform communities, change lives and that lasting impact we have on Florida and on the communities that we serve lies in the talent, the human capital – the people who live and work in our communities.”


On working with Florida’s businesses:

“For good jobs and meaningful careers to be available to all Floridians, we must have a vibrant and growing business community.”

“We know that no one organization and no one entity can solve Florida’s business talent needs alone. It takes collaboration, commitment and engagement. Listening to that critical voice of business and industry to best meet their talent needs.”


 On Florida’s workforce and employability skills:

“The Florida Jobs 2030 report smartly points out that skills develop is perhaps the core issue in helping learners succeed in a global economy. And yet businesses tell us that they sometimes have trouble filling those positions because the skills they need are not available in the labor market and the available workforce.”



Nearly one in four Florida children live in poverty and more than 3.3 million Floridians don’t know where their next meal will come from. Through the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Prosperity Initiative, Florida’s business community is working to help break the cycle of generational poverty and create greater opportunities for the next generation. In this Florida Horizon series, Ms. Dennard discusses the relationship between workforce and prosperity.


On creating a path to prosperity:

“At CareerSource Florida, we know that often times that path to prosperity begins with a job – turns into a meaningful career – leads to a more skilled and robust talent pipeline and that’s better for Florida businesses. That’s why it’s so important for the business community to engage in these conversations.”


On what prosperity means to Florida:

“As we think about what prosperity means, it’s our responsibility to consider what prosperity means in every zip code.”

“I know and I appreciate the unique characteristics of Florida’s rural communities. We know their populations are declining, their labor force participation rates are declining so as we consider solutions that encourage prosperity, we should be mindful of those solutions that not only work for our cities and our urban areas but also our rural cities and counties.”

We Caught Up with Chris Hart IV to Discuss Today’s Innovations for Improving Government Efficiency

Chris Hart IV, CEO of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers recently met with the Florida Chamber Foundation to discuss the services the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers provide businesses and citizens, and the innovations being used to ensure their mission of protecting the public trust is carried out effectively and efficiently. View our three part interview with Mr. Hart below.


Managing Millions of Case Filings for Floridians

The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers provides a variety of services including jury duty, issuing marriage licenses, collecting  and disbursing fines, and processing passports.

On the Role of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers

Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers are one of the best kept secrets in the state of Florida. They have nearly a thousand functions, duties and responsibilities both in statute and throughout the constitution. Nearly 6 million Floridians utilize the Court Clerks and Comptrollers services every year.

On Enhancing Access to Core Government Services

Ensuring data is transferred throughout the state to partners like FDLE, Department of Corrections, our sheriffs and others to ensure that free exchange of information between governmental units helps to improve the efficiently and effectiveness of Florida’s government. Which is really important when you consider that here in the state of Florida 11 percent of Florida’s real GDP is spent on government.


 Government Efficiency and Data Integrity

In their comptroller role, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers are responsible for reviewing county finances and serving as auditors.

On Ensuring Tax Dollars Are Spent Efficiently

They are basically ensuring that when tax dollars are extracted from our citizens and our businesses that those tax dollars are spent wisely and they are spent the way that they were supposed to have been spent when the policies were put in place.



Aligning with Florida 2030 Targets

The Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers is using technology to help respond to growing needs throughout Florida. Mr. Hart discusses how technology is helping streamline the process of managing the millions of filings that go through the court system.

On Government Efficiency

Our court clerks have said we don’t want to be on the bleeding edge but we definitely want to be on the cutting edge. We want to ensure we are serving our citizens better today than we did yesterday and that we continue to improve.


Some of our court clerks have already made great gains in embedding artificial intelligence within their record keeping. It’s allowing them to enter the information much more quickly, much more effectively, to ensure we have good data quality and that we’re managing that data.