Posted: July 29, 2019 by Kelly Murphy-Redd
Honesty is the Best Economic Development Policy
Political Correctness or Expediency or worrying about feelings is Not

Some might have similarities, but by and large, every community is different. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique natural resources, amenities, weather, transportation, industries, etc.

Many in a community have a hard time looking at that community without rose-colored glasses. They don’t want to look at the weaknesses. That’s natural. We as individuals don’t really like looking at our own weaknesses. But it is necessary if you want to improve, grow and make progress.

In several of the strategic planning exercises undertaken by various entities, you would hear many participants say we live in paradise. This would be the “go to” phrase people would use as an answer to the attraction question.

Of course the beautiful emerald water and white beaches are an obvious attraction and rightly so. Tourists come from everywhere to visit our community. We live where people want to vacation.  Many tourists move here after visiting here. Many separating military retire here.

But paradise doesn’t pay the bills. Economic development organizations such as ours know this and work tirelessly to facilitate the creation of jobs through business retention, expansion and attraction. They work with the support of the county, local cities, educational institutions and elected officials to create and maintain a practical and attractive business environment, develop and market the attributes of our community and support the largest driver of our economy – the military.

Let’s take a look at some weaknesses or challenges.
  • Last year we had record rainfall in the Sunshine State.
  • We have hurricanes.
  • Some cities having decaying infrastructure.
  • Some residents don’t want growth.

Certain kinds of companies that need to stay available to their customers online may hesitate to locate here due to weather concerns. Geico is such an example. This company requires three-level redundancy. If power goes out, then they have a backup. If that backup goes out, they have a third backup.

We need to ask questions.
  • How does the cost of healthcare and power compare to competing communities?
  • Do we have developable land available for companies to buy and build?
  • Do we have appropriate existing buildings available for business expansion or relocation?
  • Does our community have enough “affordable housing” stock to accommodate the new jobs we are seeking to grow?

Only when we ask and then explore the answers to questions like these, can we take steps to strengthen our communities.

There have been some political leaders in Tallahassee that seem illogically against economic development. They have mischaracterized the positive results of incentives awarded to companies in exchange for higher wage job creation as “corporate welfare”.  These leaders appear to ignore the fact that the rate of return for every dollar of tax incentive is high for the state, as well as for the communities that secure these new employment opportunities. In doing so, they sent a message to the rest of the country that Florida was not open for business.  The message was further amplified by threats to eliminate Enterprise Florida and defund the state’s primary economic development organization.

Let’s look at some strengths.
  • Florida has no state income tax.
  • Florida is a right to work state.
  • Okaloosa County and several of her cities have the Ad Valorem Tax Exemption. You can read more here:
  • Okaloosa County has highly ranked schools.
The strengths and weaknesses I listed are obviously not all-inclusive.

In strategic planning, SWOT is the exercise of looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. If we only look at strengths, we don’t have a balanced SWOT exercise. We have only ssss. Ultimately that harms a community.

Working together, we can build on strengths, minimize or fix weaknesses and be prepared for opportunities and threats.