When considering legislation coming from Tallahassee, the devil is in the details. When it comes to the bills sending Triumph funds to Northwest Florida, there are a few details panhandle residents need to be aware of.
You may recall, in 2013, the Florida Legislature created Triumph Gulf Coast, a nonprofit corporation to administer the funds as a result of the BP settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Triumph funding was to be used for programs and projects that encourage economic recovery in the eight Northwest Florida coastal counties.
These counties could soon have access to $300 million to spend for the betterment of the community, but there’s a catch. The current legislation releasing that money to your community says it cannot be used for economic diversification or tourism marketing efforts. It seems the Florida Legislature believes they know what Northwest Florida needs most – and, unfortunately, that isn’t more jobs or tourists.
Tallahassee politicians are wrong and the facts don’t support their view.
Research from Florida Chamber Foundation Chief Economist Dr. Jerry Parrish tells us that every Northwest Florida county lost jobs – except for Santa Rosa County – between December 2007 and December 2016. Further, the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin and the Panama City-Lynn Haven metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are home to two of the least diversified economies in the entire state – ranking 17th and 21st, respectively out of 22 Florida MSAs.
In other words, if tourism slows down, many Northwest Florida jobs would be threatened.
When it comes to Triumph funding, the Florida Chamber of Commerce believes Northwest Florida counties should have all options available to them. Continuing to market your beaches as a tourist destination while creating high-skill, high-wage jobs are two options. The Triumph funding was a path toward attracting large-scale, competitive projects, like Navy Federal Credit Union in Pensacola, but now economic development projects are off the table in this latest move by the Florida Legislature.
Taking economic development strategies that work off the table is shortsighted, and will, without question, put Northwest Florida at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states. Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and local economic development and tourism agencies are important pieces to Florida’s economic puzzle.
Triumph funding was originally intended for economic recovery projects. What better use for than focusing on projects that diversify the economy and invest in tourism efforts? That’s the question we should be asking members of the Florida Legislature.