Florida sent one of its chief economy experts to Marianna last Friday to take part in a regional economic development update put on by a leading organization that offers itself as a bridge between local communities and businesses seeking information about the region as a potential location for their operation. Florida’s Great Northwest (FGNW) held its meeting at the Jackson County Agriculture Complex on Penn Avenue.

Ken Lawson, Executive Director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, was one of several keynote speakers at the meeting and, accompanied by locals involved in efforts for economic growth here, also toured two Jackson County businesses that morning before the session began. He and others went to Catalyst and to the Family Dollar Distribution Center.

Lawson, who started his current position with DEO in January, said his number one priorities are to make the agency responsive to local communities as they try to recover from Hurricane Michael, and to also help them prepare for what some economists are saying could be an upcoming recession.

He talked a bit about the importance of the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund, into which $40 million was placed in the last legislative session, and of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his commitment to workforce development and infrastructure improvements in the state.

Other speakers included Bruce Vrendenburg, who is chairman of FGNW and also a key member of the Hancock Bank leadership. He stressed that the banking community recognizes that although they must ordinarily aggressively compete, that they also must work together toward economic growth in order to ensure that they can all survive by working cooperatively when possible to help the communities they cover prosper.

Richard Williams and Roy Baker of Opportunity Florida also spoke, along with several others.

The last half of the afternoon focused largely on the continued effort to transform the old Dozier School For Boys property, now known as Endeavor, into a vital economic hub for the region.

Leading those talks were Engineer David Melvin, who has been closely involved in that effort because his company has a continuing contract with the county, along with a Family Dollar Distribution Center representative, Chipola College President Dr. Sarah Clemmons and Dr. Irvin Clark, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Administrative Affairs at Florida State University-Panama City campus.

When the meeting ended, a van tour of the Endeavor property was offered.

Those who rode saw several structures there, including the old Dozier gymnasium, which Melvin says is slated to become a community center.

They also saw the old vocational area tagged as the potential site of a refreshed vocational training center that could serve a variety of people learning all manner of trades, including students from the general population as well as young people with autism who are aging out of high school and need help achieving independent and productive lives as adults.

See more on that project in an accompanying story.

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