Keeping a keen eye on the future

The 23rd Gulf Power Economic Symposium will attract more than 600
participants from the region and will challenge them with the theme, “2020
See Beyond.”

Martha Simmons
February 2020

For nearly two dozen years, Northwest Florida’s business and community leaders
have converged and collaborated at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium to discuss
and engage in the region’s community and economic opportunities.

This year will be no different, when the 23rd Economic Symposium takes place
Thursday, Feb. 27 and Friday, Feb. 28 at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort in
Miramar Beach.

In aerospace-related items, one of the speakers will be Carey Lohrenz, the first
female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, who will speak about fearless
leadership. In addition, a panel discussion will talk about the community collaboration
that attracted ST Engineering to establish a maintenance, repair and overhaul
campus at Pensacola International Airport.

Also on tap is a discussion on Northwest Florida’s military bases and how business
and community leaders can strengthen the region in support of its military partners.
The military plays a huge role in the region’s economy. Naval Air Station Pensacola,
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Eglin Air Force Base and Tyndall Air Force Base are
all aviation-focused.

More than 600 participants at this day-and-a-half event will be challenged to sharpen
their vision of the future. Gulf Power President Marlene Santos opens the Thursday
session with a discussion of the symposium’s theme, “2020 See Beyond.” Santos is
entering her second year as president of Gulf Power, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy.
She has also served in utility company leadership roles for more than 15 years.

Continuing the forward-looking theme will be keynote speaker Mike Walsh, CEO of
Tomorrow, a global consultancy focused on designing companies for the 21st
century and teaching leaders how to thrive in an era of disruptive technological
change. Walsh will weigh in on “The Future of Human-Centric Innovation.” His
bestselling books include Futuretainment, The Dictionary of Dangerous Ideas, and
The Algorithmic Leader: How to Be Smart When Machines Are Smarter Than You.

Economic development is on tap for the remainder of the Thursday morning agenda.

Amy Holloway, founder and CEO of Avalanche Economic Development Consulting
Group, will cover “Next Generation Economic Development.” Avalanche creates
targeted economic development strategies, custom research, workforce analyses
and communications platforms for communities across the country.

In the “Economic Development in Action” segment, panelists will discuss how a
community collaborated to recruit one of the region’s newest area employers.
Panelists include Holloway, along with Bill Hafner, chief integration officer of ST
Engineering; Rick Harper, economic advisor, Triumph Gulf Coast; and Scott Luth,
president and CEO of Florida West Economic Development Alliance.

Symposium participants will hear two more panels Thursday afternoon:

  • “Being Community Placemakers,” with panelists Kate McEnroe, owner, Kate
    McEnroe Consulting; Jay Odom, founder, Jay Odom Group; and Andrew
    Rothfeder, president, Studer Properties.

  • “Seeing Beyond Traditional Talent Strategies,” presented by Irvin Clark,
    associate dean of Faculty Development and Administrative Affairs, Florida
    State University – Panama City; Kim Krupa, executive director, Achieve
    Escambia; Glen McDonald, vice president, Strategic Projects & Economic
    Development, Gulf Coast State College; Kelly Reeser, managing director,
    TechFarms; and Nathan Sparks, executive director, Economic Development
    Council of Okaloosa County.

Since no future is without risk, participants will hear from Carey Lohrenz, the first
female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. Her Thursday afternoon
presentation, “Fearless Leadership: Facing Fears,” will draw on her experiences in
the cockpit at Mach 2 and how that translates into her work advising business and
community leaders how to successfully win under pressure, reduce errors and
overcome obstacles.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez will kick off the presenters for the Friday half-day
session. She will be followed by James Wright, diversity and inclusion consultant,
James Wants to Know You. Wright will make the case for “Refocused
Communities/The Business Imperative for Inclusion.” His experience in the subject
includes leadership stints at Apple Inc., LinkedIn and NBCUniversal.

Next up, Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research at the Florida
Chamber Foundation, will outline “Northwest Florida’s Economy.” In Parrish’s current
role, he conducts in-depth analyses on the Florida economy. Previously, he led the
Center for Competitive Florida at Florida TaxWatch and served as associate director
of the Center for Economic Forecasting & Analysis at Florida State University.

A key component of Northwest Florida’s economy is the military. The talk, “Achieving
Mission Assurance Through Base Resiliency,” will feature Under Secretary John
Henderson, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and
Energy. He is responsible for the formulation, review, oversight and execution of
plans, policies, programs, and budgets for all Air Force installations.

Expected topics are understanding Air Force challenges, Tyndall rebuild, and
strategic planning to support mission growth and the impact it has on the surrounding

To learn more or register for the event, go to

Previous symposiums
Despite being forced by Hurricane Michael to reschedule the event from October
2018 to April 2019, the 22nd symposium drew 638 attendees and focused on
innovation, public/private partnerships and the factors leading companies to select
particular sites.

Attending then was Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said Florida’s comparatively low taxes,
reasonable regulations and conservative spending are proving attractive to
businesses and affluent residents fleeing highly taxed and heavily regulated states.
That migration is resulting in new investments in Florida and accompanying job

He said workforce development is the key to capitalizing on those opportunities,
noting that Florida currently is in the middle of the pack on workforce education. “We
set a goal to make Florida No. 1 in workforce education by 2030.”

Workforce training, rather than college degrees, the governor said, pave the way for
many high-paying aerospace jobs, an industry where Florida’s future is particularly
bright. “I think that in many respects we’re leading the way,” DeSantis said about the
Sunshine State’s aerospace industry.

Attendees at the 21st event also heard speakers beat the drum for education, along
with building communities. Stan Connally, then-chairman, president and CEO of Gulf
Power, exhorted business and community leaders to “create a future for 2030 now,”
by, among other things, addressing foundational issues such as poverty and
education, and problem-solving together.

There was a similar theme during the October 2016 event, held in Panama City,
which had more than 500 participants.

Connally at that time noted that the event was started 20 years ago with “a handful of
business leaders with a vision to connect businesses together to grow our economy
in Northwest Florida.” He urged them to speak with one voice and become a broader
and more inclusive group.
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