OK, Okaloosa, what are we going to do now? Surviving a crisis is not new to us. What is new is that for this one, we are on our own. There will be no caravan of Gulf Power trucks and no church volunteers from other counties and states.
Because everyone —in the world — is in the same situation. So what are we gonna do?
We have two unique characteristics — one good, one bad. Both make us better prepared to rebound more quickly. The beaches/Gulf are the good; the fact that we are accustomed to adversity is the bad.
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We live in a part of the world "where life is a vacation." It’s a place that features a welcoming, family-focused, hometown feel — a laid-back lifestyle — with a water culture that many call Paradise. However, with this paradise comes occasional heartache—hurricanes and the loss of our military/law enforcement friends/neighbors preserving our freedom. When tragedy happens, we, as a community, have rallied time and time again. It’s what we do.
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We must love our tourists as much as we love our military members.
1. Embrace Tourism: The beaches — Everyone loves our beaches! Did you know that 30% of the working population of Okaloosa County work in the hospitality business? It’s the highest percentage in the state. Unless you are wearing a military uniform, you are involved in some way in the tourism industry. Thus we should be a very friendly bunch of folks, right?
Well — maybe. In a recent survey, our perceived lack of southern hospitality was the third negative item mentioned by both visitors and residents of our area (first was traffic, second was lack of access to water).
Folks, we are a tourist destination! The reason we have every restaurant and retail imaginable (and lots of cool museums and activities) is because tourists come here to have a good time. They spend money. Our job is to make certain they feel welcomed and have a good time. Our economy depends upon it.
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I want you to spend local, spend Okaloosa.
2. Let’s support our local businesses – particularly those that are Chamber members. Amazon is not going to buy an ad in the football program or sponsor your Little League team or church bazaar, but your local businesses will. Keep your neighbors and friends employed.
Thank our government leaders
3. If you don’t know who’s in charge of your town or county, make an effort to meet them or at least send them a note to thank them. These are amazingly challenging times — yet they have all proven their desire to truly do what they can to benefit Okaloosa County and its cities. The Business Grant Project initiated in the County, Crestview, Destin and Fort Walton Beach is one example.
Support local non-profits or volunteer to help your neighbor
4. We have one of the most caring communities anywhere in the world. So that’s a really good start. Our front-line health care workers are the best. We have many agencies working to get food to those who don’t have it; restaurants giving away food; first responders bringing some fun to those quarantined; teachers delivering graduation signs to seniors’ homes.
We’ve got to keep doing those niceties.
Love Okaloosa County and help make us better
5. We have been faced with an unprecedented situation, and we must work together. United we thrive, divided we fall. We might not agree on exactly how we accomplish something — but let’s agree that we are going to do something.
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What will be the new normal for us in Okaloosa County? Can we all brag about how wonderful it is to live here? Can we love those who feed our economy? Can we be proud of our yards, our buildings, our community? Can we find the solutions to our traffic issues? How about housing for those who need it? Fixing our schools? Feeding our hungry?
OK, Okaloosa. Let’s get on it!
Ted Corcoran is President/CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.