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Bay EDA president: 'We know we can compete'


PANAMA CITY — The Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) used a lost project to gauge the headway the organization made this year during an annual luncheon. 
The project would have brought about 300 new jobs to the community over two development phases, along with a $60 million capital investment from the company, one of the largest aviation suppliers in the world. Although the Bay County site with runway access at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport was ranked number one in the U.S., the company chose to locate in China after nearly four months of negotiation.
Becca Hardin, who took over as EDA president last year, said the project was still a win for the agency.
“We put together a proposal and we were the number one site in the United States,” she said at Tuesday’s luncheon, which was held at Gulf Coast State College. “We know we can compete now. Even though we didn’t win that project, we won that project (because) we left a footprint in the aviation world.”
Going into 2016, Hardin said the EDA will continue to focus on targeting the aviation industry for job creation and economic growth. Ultimately, the Beaches International Airport is poised as one of the area’s biggest assets, with a 10,000 foot runway and plenty of open, adjacent land. 
“We think we have an asset that completely sets us apart,” Hardin said, also referencing “pad-ready” sites at the nearby St. Joe Co. development VentureCrossings. “We’re going to fill these sites up in the next year or two.”
Aviation-related activity for the EDA in 2015 included five prospect visits from presidents and decision makers of aviation-related companies, eight project leads from the state economic development agency Enterprise Florida and attendance at three major aviation industry events. Additionally, the agency executed a contract with a retired aviation executive for assistance with aviation-related project leads and site visits.
With Port Panama City pegged as another major asset for the community, the EDA also will continue a push to draw more port-related business in the coming year.
Panama City Port Director Wayne Stubbs and Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki recently joined Hardin on a trip to Progreso, Mexico, to further build relationships and explore new markets at Panama City’s “sister port.” The Port of Progreso is currently serviced by local container cargo shipping company Linea Peninsular, which launched an additional route to Veracruz earlier this month.
Overall, Hardin said the EDA’s aggressive marketing push has been successful in getting the word out about Bay County in 2015, and described economic development as a slow process.
“What we do in economic development is a marathon; it’s not a sprint,” Hardin said. “We know the more we throw out there, the more we get to sit at the table; we’re going to see some of these projects come to fruition. The more opportunity we have to compete, the greater chance we have to win.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the EDA also announced a slate of new officers for 2016. The new board includes: Chairman Clint Mizell (Summit Bank), Vice Chairman Wayne Stubbs (Port Panama City), Treasurer Jorge Gonzalez (St. Joe Co.), Secretary Sandy Sims (Gulf Power Co.), investor appointee Carlton Ulmer (Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center) and past chairman John Juchniewicz.

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