CRESTVIEW — A public-private partnership between Okaloosa County’s Economic Development Council and local government and business has added hundreds of new jobs at Bob Sikes Airport.
As the News Bulletin reported in November 2012, L3 Crestview Aerospace began construction last month on an administration building on two acres of land south of the current administration building. Work on an 80,000-square-foot hangar on L3’s local campus will begin later this year, Jeff Barger, the company’s vice president and general manager, said.
The expansion would bring 340 new jobs to the airport’s biggest tenant while retaining approximately 80 positions, EDC interim President Kay Rasmussen said. The campus’ expansion represents a $13.7 million capital investment.
Speaking to the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s Government Issues committee at its Wednesday meeting, Rasmussen explained the council’s role as the county’s economic development organization.
“The EDC is a non-profit, independent organization funded by private business owners that realize if we are successful in our objectives, it’s going to help them,” Rasmussen said. Public sector members include the city of Crestview.
“By us doing our job and being successful, the city benefits,” Rasmussen said. “They get new businesses in their community and increases in tax revenue.”
She praised Crestview as being “very pro-business,” and mentioned the city’s efforts to streamline business development and eliminate some impact fees.
As a private entity, the EDC has no regulatory authority, but works with partners, such as the city and county, to find ways of reducing or eliminating impediments to business development or relocation, Rasmussen said,.
“If we can see an area that can be improved upon for the greater good, we’re going to reach out to that entity,” Rasmussen said. “But we are not the policy makers. We are a partner. One key point is we don’t do anything alone. It’s all about partnerships.”
The council lists manufacturing, information technology, professional business services and medical health sciences as the primary targeted high-growth, high-wage industries it seeks to attract to Okaloosa County, including Crestview and its Enterprise Zone.
“Crestview can support, successfully, all of these targeted industries,” Rasmussen said.
The Enterprise Zone, the only one in the county, encompasses a corridor including a portion of Crestview, U.S. Highway 90 and the airport. It offers special incentives, tax reductions and employee training opportunities for business that locate within the zone or hire employees who live in it.
The EDC has 20 active projects, including four in the Crestview area that together could provide nearly 1,500 new jobs. State confidentiality laws precluded Rasmussen from discussing the companies’ identities.
While the military and defense sector is the region’s “number one economic engine,” it is followed by tourism, which took a hit from the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The incident underscored the need to diversify the local economy, Rasmussen said.
However, the EDC was a step ahead of the disaster, she said.
“The Deepwater Horizon tragedy … had a ripple effect across our county,” Rasmussen said. “Everybody started talking about diversifying our economy. We were already working on it. We have always been about diversification of our industry.”
The county for years has collaborated with Eglin Air Force Base’s research lab, NASA and the Space Florida research center on a major project, currently in development, for an unmanned air and ground vehicle laboratory and test center on Louis Turner Boulevard near Shalimar on University of Florida property, Rasmussen said.
With fire and wind-resistant protective walls, the lab would be for “research, development and testing of unmanned vehicles,” Rasmussen said. “We’re looking at small vehicles, not monster ones. This can be utilized by so many entities,” including the military, public safety and environmental research.
“This is diversification for our county. There is a need for this,” Rasmussen said. “This is something that even though it’s not in Crestview, would benefit Crestview. It would benefit all of us.”