CRESTVIEW — The city council heard a positive report on the area’s economic outlook this week.
Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, spoke to the council at its May 14 meeting about opportunities for economic growth in the north end of the county.
Sparks talked about the pace of economic progress in the county, mentioning the recent agreement between state and local officials on working to alleviate traffic problems in Crestview, as well as securing Triumph Gulf Coast funds for that and other projects.
“We’re moving now at a pace we haven’t been able to move at,” Sparks said.
The EDC is a non-profit organization that promotes business development specifically in the engineering, manufacturing and technology sectors. They offer assistance to existing businesses in these sectors and provide information for those looking to start a new business.
Sparks touted the EDC’s Jan. 28 Educate the Educator event at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Crestview, as one of the organization’s successes. The program targets teachers and guidance counselors to educate them on the needs of area employers.
“Connecting our young people to career pathways is a very important function of what we all need to be doing,” Sparks said. “Certainly our school district and our college partners … they all understand that today’s student is tomorrow’s employee.”
With the unemployment rate in Okaloosa County below 3 percent, Sparks said it was important not only to prepare current high school and college students for jobs in those industries, but to keep them in the area as well.
“Preparing those young people for careers that are in demand in Okaloosa County, frankly, is something that we put front and center in our overall objectives at the EDC,” he said.
Keeping the general public informed on innovation happening at local businesses is another thing Sparks emphasized to the council.
“So many people drive past a business and have no idea what happens inside those four walls,” he said. “I can tell you some pretty innovative things that are happening right down the street in Crestview.”
Sparks also spoke about the recent decision by Okaloosa County to build water and sewer infrastructure at the Shoal River Ranch property located on Highway 90 east of Crestview. The county is receiving $1.5 million in Triumph funding for that project, which will cover an estimated 35.7 percent of the costs.
The property sits on a total of more than 10,000 acres, spanning both sides of Interstate 10. The two sides are connected by an overpass spanning the interstate. Okaloosa County approved an option to purchase 1,665 acres of the property for potential economic development late last year.
“Ten thousand acres can accommodate a lot,” Sparks said, citing the county’s hope to secure a large industrial tenant for the property.
Previous potential developers chose not to develop on the property because the appropriate infrastructure was not yet in place, according to Sparks.