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Bay EDA champions high-speed broadband project


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PANAMA CITY — As officials with the Bay County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) continue a push to generate a “Buzz around Bay,” investors at a meeting Wednesday discussed ways to make the area stand out from the pack when facing global competition.


One effort, to expand the county’s high-speed data infrastructure, moved one step closer to reality this week.


EDA President Becca Hardin gave an update on one EDA-supported Bay Technology Initiative, one of the projects vying for a portion of the county’s initial funds coming from the RESTORE Act. The initiative would connect Bay County to the state’s high-speed broadband network LamdaRail, and was ranked first out of the 14 projects by the Bay County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee at a meeting Tuesday.


“That will be tremendous for our efforts in economic development,” said Hardin, who sits on the RESTORE Committee. “It will give us another tool in our rucksack to be able to compete internationally.”


The application cites benefits for economic development in the area, as well as for local schools, government entities and military installations, and was submitted jointly by the EDA and the Bay Defense Alliance, a 30-member board dedicated to supporting local military bases.


Officials requested $1 million in funding to help support the nearly $1.8 million project.


The projects will now go before the Bay County Commission, which will make a final decision on the projects to fund.


During the meeting, Hardin also provided an update on the EDA’s project activity, citing several leads gaining traction, and some that were scrapped from the list due to inactivity, including a manufacturing project with the potential to create more than 400 jobs.


While some projects were lost, others moved forward, including one to bring in a manufacturing, repair and overhaul company that could create 75 new jobs. Company officials are planning a site visit in June, Hardin said.


“We’ve been really busy,” Hardin said. “I’m really excited that we’re going to get some traction with these site visits.”


The EDA also added several new projects to its ongoing list, including five leads from the state economic development agency, Enterprise Florida. “One of our goals, obviously, is bringing people here and telling our story,” Hardin said.


Hardin, who took over as head of the organization last fall, said officials also are exploring other ways to enhance Bay County’s competitiveness internationally. She introduced Robert E.L. Gilpin as the keynote speaker for Wednesday’s meeting, a business attorney and economic development official in Montgomery, Alabama, who has been integral in closing several large economic development deals in the state with international companies.


Giplin’s message was fairly simple, advising officials seeking to lure foreign companies take the time to learn about the culture and customs of the country and go out of their way to welcome and assist foreign business visitors.


Although Alabama’s state economic development efforts are different than Florida’s, Gilpin said officials should focus on what makes their area unique when selling it.


“I love being an economic development official,” he said. “You truly impact people. ... You create opportunities.”

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