Economic development
Luth: building community wealth

 It’s important not only to bring new dollars into a community with
businesses big and small, but to ensure the mix helps diversify the local

It’s one thing to ensure businesses are strong. Quite another to bring in new ones,
large and small, infuse new money and diversify the economy.
 That’s the task Scott Luth has.
 As a young man, Luth was always interested in business, but it was his future father-
in-law who sparked his interest in community and economic development.
 Now the CEO of FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance, Luth has for the past
six years used that spark to fire up the Pensacola area economy, leading efforts to
attract and recruit new industry and commercial development, retain and expand
existing businesses, support entrepreneurship, develop the workforce, and much
 Luth’s journey into the business world may have begun as a child growing up in
Westerville, Ohio, a suburb just outside Columbus, a city that serves as sort of a
bellwether for new and expanding businesses.
 “We were sort of one of the first places where chain restaurants and new
technology were launched,” Luth said. The Columbus metro area was the first to
have such innovations as talking vending machines and bowling alleys with digital
screens, Luth said, adding that test marketers felt “if folks in that area would like it, so
would the rest of the United States.”
 After graduating from high school in Westerville, Luth attended The College of
Wooster, a small private school for which he played football. Within the first year,
however, Luth’s parents had moved to Florida, and Luth decided he liked Tampa’s
winter climate a lot more than Ohio’s blizzards. He resumed his college studies at
Hillsborough Community College.
 When his younger brother won a chance to play football as a walk-on for Mississippi
State University, Luth followed him there to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business
 It was there that Luth met his future wife, Michelle McGilberry, whose father, Dr. Joe
McGilberry, headed up the university’s Food and Fiber Center and later its Extension
 “He worked with a lot of small businesses, agricultural businesses, and that was my
introduction to working in economic development on behalf of communities,” Luth
 Luth graduated in 1991 and spent the next decade or so in the following community
and economic development organizations in Mississippi:
Southwest MS Planning and Development District, Natchez
The Alliance, Corinth
Panola Partnership, Inc., Batesville
Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland

 In 2005, he was tapped to serve as executive vice president of Glasgow-Barren
County Industrial Development Economic Authority, Glasgow, Ky. Two years later, he
was back in Mississippi, this time as business development manager for Entergy
Mississippi, Inc. in Jackson.
 From there, Luth was recruited by the president of the Greater Pensacola Chamber
of Commerce to serve as its senior vice president of economic development.
 At that time, the chamber was an umbrella organization for three areas: Tourism,
community development/quality-of-life, and economic development. That’s a huge
undertaking for a single organization such as the chamber.
 Tourism, of course, is a primary economic driver in the region, as it is in most
Florida coastal communities. Community development efforts focus on workforce
development, education, beautification, retail development, and “making a community
a place where people want to come,” Luth said. While the existing businesses such
as stores, coffee shops and insurance agencies are critical to the life of the
community, the dollars they generate mostly recirculate, Luth explained.
 Six years ago, FloridaWest was born, spinning off from the chamber so it could
devote itself exclusively to economic development and bringing new dollars into the
 “Economic development is where you work to grow your business sector or bring in
new businesses,” Luth said. “We work with businesses whose products and services
are sold outside the region. Our job is to increase the wealth of the community.”
 And while economic developers certainly pursue the big projects, they also help
develop smaller ones.
 “It’s not so much the size of the company,” Luth said. “It’s what they do. Even a one-
person company – we work with them as long as they have plans to sell outside the
region or globally.”
 It’s important not only to bring new dollars coming into the area, but also to diversify
its economic base.
 First Covid-19 and most recently Hurricane Sally delivered double whammies to the
tourism and travel industries. “The hospitality and tourism industries are continuing to
struggle and look for ways to come back,” Luth said. But other aspects of Pensacola’
s economy have remained strong, he added.
 To strengthen the economy even further, FloridaWest is pursuing a detailed five-
year strategic plan  with the overarching commitment to “have direct involvement in
new projects (business locations, expansions, or incubation graduations) that result
in an average of 400 documented new jobs per year, for a total number of 2,000
documented new jobs by 2023, all with wages above the state average wage
($44,790 in 2017).”
 FloridaWest has targeted its business development efforts on:
Manufacturing – Advanced, aviation, chemical processing, marine services, and
MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft)
Cybersecurity and information technology – Corporate locations, cybersecurity,
financial and back-office services, and research and development

 Aviation and cybersecurity, in particular, are industries that are ingrained in
Northwest Florida’s military presence, what with NAS Pensacola, long known as the
“Cradle of Naval Aviation,” and Eglin Air Force Base, which, among other missions,
“serves as the focal point for the Combat Air Forces in electronic warfare, armament
and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance and aircrew training devices,”
according to the base website.
 “Both of those [industries] have a long history here in Pensacola with the military,
since the early 1900s for aviation and the 1960s for cybersecurity,” Luth said, adding
that cybersecurity was known “back in the day” as cryptology.
 The spark that lit a fire under Luth’s economic development career may, if he has
his way, even help launch a regional industry in space exploration. When Space X
splashed down in the Gulf waters near Pensacola in early August, astronaut Doug
Hurley revisited the town where he originally trained for his aviation career.
Pensacola recently applied to become headquarters host of the U.S. Space
Command, under which the new Space Force, Air Force and other military branches
will operate in space.
 “It’s not only aerospace, it’s space,” Luth said of the area’s assets and experience.
“We’ve trained half-a-dozen astronauts. Pensacola has a long and rich history of
supporting the space industry.”

- Martha Simmons
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