Gateway to West Florida
The FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance is setting the stage for development in Pensacola
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When the economic development arm of the local chamber of commerce decided to become its own entity two years ago, local leaders knew that branding would play a major role in crafting its core mission. That’s how “FloridaWest,” the economic development alliance serving Pensacola and Escambia County, came to be.
“When we went through that process, we wanted something that was reflective of the area we represented and, obviously, Pensacola/Escambia County,” said Scott Luth, chief executive officer of FloridaWest. “We are the most western part of Florida, and so it tied into that. We also wanted to take advantage of the brand and the recognition of the state of Florida, which has a wonderful name globally.”
There’s more to “West” than meets the eye, however. Sure, it’s a geographic location, but it’s also an acronym loaded with meaning, Luth explained. The “W” stands for wealth development, which is the agency’s primary focus. The “E” stands for economic partnerships. The “S” is for sustainable businesses and “T” stands for a transformed workforce.
Although the acronym is only four letters, there are actually five core missions in play with FloridaWest’s economic development efforts. The alliance has a business retention and expansion program and a recruitment program, manages a small-business incubator to grow local businesses, and a workforce development initiative that works with education partners to meet job growth demands. It’s also engaged in developing new commerce parks, industrial parks and tech parks.
“The majority of work that we do and the companies that we work with and support, they are all net importers of wealth into the community,” Luth said. “And the way we define that is that even our small-business incubator companies are creating or developing a product or service that will be sold outside the region, primarily. And that’s sort of how we define who our customer is. So that is what we’re looking for. Not that our retail and service community isn’t important, because it is, and so is our health care industry. But we have others in the community that focus on those sectors. We have a full-time tourism department and a great, strong chamber of commerce that supports that. Our focus is primarily on companies that produce a product or service outside the region.”
Targeted Industry Sectors
In a city with a strong military, shipping and financial presence, it’s not surprising that FloridaWest targets companies that would fit in well with what’s already in Pensacola.
“We obviously will work with anybody that calls,” Luth said. “We support a lot of different companies, but the ones we kind of focus on — and focus our resources on — are our financial and business services companies, such as our Navy Federal (Credit Union) and those types of companies that focus on the financial services sector. There are information technology companies, our port facilities, our aviation manufacturing sector, and obviously our defense and homeland security with what’s going on with NAS Pensacola, both in the public and private sectors.”
It doesn’t end there. FloridaWest, Luth said, has “unique opportunities” for recruiting some energy-intensive industries that would need ample utility resources. That’s something Pensacola has in place with providers such as Gulf Power, Pensacola Energy and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.
“The big electrical, gas, water and sewer companies are a target for us as well because of the resources we have in our community. And so those are growth opportunities and targets for us,” he said.