CRESTVIEW — Sometimes, North Okaloosa County is referred to as "L.A," for Lower Alabama, with which we have more in common than the beach resort-oriented south end of the county.
Our proximity to Alabama is ideal for partnering with the neighboring state for economic growth, Florida District 3 Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Midway, says.
Broxson, who represents northern Okaloosa County except for the Crestview city limits, says local economic planning has prepared the region for growth.
"I am extremely excited about North Okaloosa," Broxson said during an Aug. 14 Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Government Issues Committee meeting. "I think we have positioned ourselves to be a big player in the economy."
North Okaloosa County is sufficiently distant from Mobile and Baldwin counties — to which Alabama has attracted industry including a new Airbus plant — but is not in direct competition like neighboring Escambia County.
South Alabama leaders are still smarting over Pensacola International Airport's ability to attract more improvement money than the Mobile airport receives, Broxson said.
"They don't mind a little bit of Santa Rosa, they're not too sensitive about Okaloosa, but they don't want Escambia involved," Broxson said. "We must be smart and leverage ourselves at the table."
First to recover
The north county is the where economic recovery will first occur if a major hurricane strikes Northwest Florida, Broxson said.
"We're not on the coast. We're away from the coast," he said. "Our ability to get our insurance pay and get our economy back going again is vitally important.
"We'll be back in business before Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Pensacola ... Our economy's going to be moving, and that's important to our county ... You could be the salvation of this county when that storm hits at the south end."
RESTORE Act money, which helps businesses and others following our last major disaster, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is available while affected counties put their spending plans together.
"If we're organized and we're ready and we have a compelling plan, we'll have a place at the table," Broxson said.
The local RESTORE Act planning coalition has focused on a stormwater-runoff mitigation project for the funds, chamber of commerce President Dennis Mitchell said.
"I believe that we are positioned in north Okaloosa to see phenomenal things happen," Broxson said. "Primarily with Alabama. Alabama is going to be a big player. They will have the same share of RESTORE money for 67 miles of coastline as we do.
"They are no longer the competition. They have to be a partner."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.