Economic development
Looking beyond roadblocks, barriers

While aerospace is not the main focus, a major aviation project in
Pensacola was the topic of a panel discussion during the 23rd annual
economic symposium.

In one of the last large gatherings in Northwest Florida before the coronavirus was
ruled a pandemic, more than 500 of the region’s business and community leaders
attended the 23rd annual Gulf Power Economic Symposium, “2020 See Beyond.”

The symposium, which focuses on Northwest Florida’s future, was Feb. 27-28 at
Sandestin Beach Resort at Miramar Beach, Fla., east of Destin.

“We must see beyond the perceived roadblocks and barriers that can make dreams
and aspirations seem impossible,” said Marlene Santos, Gulf Power president. “We
have to move beyond to take advantage of the open doors of opportunities where
barriers are broken and transformation is born.”

Opening speaker, Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, a global consulting firm whose new
book is “The Algorithmic Leader,” advises company leaders on how to thrive in the
current era of disruptive technological change.

He shared examples of how China is already changing because of the coronavirus
outbreak that started there, in part by developing new forms of delivery without
human contact and shifting to digital commerce and currency.
He said jobs will be constantly changing over the next five years and that people will
have jobs in the near future that don’t even exist today. The key, he said, is to think
10 times more, rather than 10 percent more.

While aerospace was not a specific topic during most of the symposium, one
intriguing aerospace project was highlighted in a panel discussion. It focused on the
partnership that led to the expansion of the ST Engineering repair, maintenance and
overhaul facility at Pensacola International Airport.

Amy Holloway, founder and CEO of Avalanche Consulting and moderator of a panel
on economic development in action, talked about the next generation of economic
development and what successful communities share.

“Successful communities all have one thing in common - they are communities that
value and encourage partnerships,” she said. “There’s power in partnerships and
that’s the next generation of economic development. They’re willing to bring people
to the table and solve problems together.”

The panel Holloway moderated included Bill Hafner, chief integration officer for ST
Engineering, Dr. Rick Harper, economic adviser of Triumph Gulf Coast, and Scott
Luth, president and CEO of FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance.

They discussed the partnerships involved in the ST Engineering Aerospace campus
being developed at Pensacola International Airport.

“We had 30 to 40 different partners participate in the project,” Luth said, pointing out
that it was an eight-year journey in building the relationships. “We had to identify
where the strengths of each one were and how do we work together to make it work.”

Bill Hafner, chief integration officer for ST Engineering, which has an even larger
MRO campus in Mobile, Ala., said the project needed partners in every sector,
including education.

Rick Harper, economic advisor of Triumph Gulf Coast, said backers knew it would be
good for the economy. The result will be four MRO hangars, an administrative
building and 1,600 jobs paying in excess of 115 percent of the county average.

“It was clear the economic project was going to be transformational,” said Harper,
who said the Triumph board has seven leaders with a lot of business experience. To
them, it was important that citizens would get the most bang for the buck.

Importantly, ST Engineering will need to have access to employees from more than
just one school district and one county. The vision is to attract talent from across the

“We’re about to embark on another journey,” said Hafner. “We knew there would be
a certain amount of talent to transition right in. We knew it wouldn’t be plug and play.
We knew we have to train the workforce and we’ll be forging relationships all the way
to Tallahassee.”

“By building the cluster and bringing these companies to our area, then you begin to
see the spinoff opportunities and start-up companies start to develop,” said Luth.

- Gulf Coast Reporters’ League
April 2020
Underwritten in part by: