FORT WALTON BEACH — After more than 15 years as president of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, Larry Sassano has resigned to accept the top spot at the regional Florida’s Great Northwest office.
Florida’s Great Northwest and the Okaloosa County EDC released joint announcements Monday morning with details about the transition. Sassano’s last day with the EDC will be Nov. 30, and he will officially join Florida’s Great Northwest on Dec. 1.
“Larry’s got over 30 years of economic development experience and most of that here in Northwest Florida,” said John Hutchison, chairman of Florida’s Great Northwest. “He knows the area; he knows why we’re good for business.”
Sassano is out of town this week and was unavailable for comment.
His official title with Florida’s Great Northwest will be interim president. Hutchison said Sassano was given a one-year contract to help guide the organization through its current transition period.
Florida’s Great Northwest was founded in 2000 to market and brand the 16-county Northwest Florida region as a competitive location for business. It is transitioning into more of a marketing engine that will bring business prospects to the individual county’s economic development organization.
“The idea is that Florida’s Great Northwest becomes more of a support organization rather than a standalone organization with a big staff and duplicated programs,” Hutchison said. “I think it’s a positive step that’s going to help the region work together and make us more of a partner with EDOs than a separate organization.
“I think our new organization will move faster,” he added. “I think we’ll be more efficient.”
As part of the transition, the organization’s staffing was reduced from five to two employees and it’s moving out of its Sandestin offices to relocate to Northwest Florida State College.
Kay Rasmussen, vice president of community and economic development for the Okaloosa County EDC, was named interim director of the organization.
“Larry has done a tremendous job,” said David Goetsch, a local economist and former two-time chairman of the Okaloosa EDC. “He’s grown the EDC to where it is. He’s responsible for 20 to 30 new startups over the time he’s been here. He gave us that really good marketing arm that you have to have as an EDC to be effective.
“One of the things that Larry did was train a really good staff,” Goetsch added. “The staff we have is outstanding. You’ll see the EDC go on without a hiccup.”
Jim Heald, general manager of InDyne and current chairman of the Okaloosa County EDC, said they will form a small search committee to find a permanent president for the EDC. He hopes to have someone in place by early spring.
Heald said Sassano has had a huge impact on Okaloosa County.
“His experience and knowledge of the economic development process has just been invaluable in getting companies who are interested in coming here connected with the right people in the city and county government so they can get the right incentives,” Heald said. “(Sassano’s) facilitating the right people to get together to make it happen so we have growth.”
Sassano joined the Okaloosa County EDC on Feb. 7, 1997, and replaced the organization’s founding president, Jim Breitenfeld.
Breitenfeld remains active in the EDC and runs TeCMEN, the EDC’s networking group for local technology, manufacturing, engineering and defense-related companies. He said Sassano has brought a high degree of professionalism and stability to the EDC.
“Over the last several years, you’ve seen a lot of economic development organizations in a lot of communities or counties either get gobbled up by local governments or lose some of their independence,” Breitenfeld said. “It’s very difficult these days to strike the fine balance between serving your private sector members and your public sector sponsors, and I think Larry’s done a great job of that.
“The EDC has held true to its mission since he’s been there. As the person who left it to him, I feel great about the work he’s done. I’ve always felt impressed.”
Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.