Business Leaders: NW Fla. Cleared for Economic Takeoff

SANDESTIN — Nearly 300 business, community and political leaders from across Northwest Florida are gathered here this week for a three-day conference to foster regional unity and seek ways to stimulate the area’s economy.

  “We must forge ahead and truly embrace the collective voice in promoting a strong business climate and competitive region,” John Forrester, chairman of the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a welcoming note to those attending the event that opened Wednesday at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa.

   “We are competing with organized regions throughout the state of Florida and United States…Together we are better, and can resolve to partner for the greater good of all our communities.”

   The conference is focusing on several aspects of the regional economy, from construction to tourism to job development.

   “One of the most important things we have to do as an area is be

on the same song sheet…because we have sizzle,” former House Speaker Allan Bense told attendees in a video message. “The potential is unlimited.”

   Richard Jennings, president of Realty Capital International, a global real estate investment banking advisory firm in New York City, predicted that Northwest Florida would come out of the current economic doldrums faster than other regions of the country because “it’s such an attractive place.” He also ventured that the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport would have a major impact on the region’s tourism industry, especially bringing in more foreign tourists, when it opens in 2010.

   “It’s the kind of area everyone wants to go to,” he said.

  Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, slated to become the first House speaker from Okaloosa County after the November election, was greeted with applause when he said it is incumbent to work together as a region to attract new business.

   “If we do not create the right atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what agenda you put together,” he said, adding that the House will focus mostly on economic initiatives during his two-year term at the helm.

   “If a bill is not about getting the economy going…it will not be heard,” he pledged.    

  Sponsors of the “Stimulating the Economy with Transportation Leadership Conference” include the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Walton County Board of Commissioners, Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council, Howard Group, Grand Boulevard, Silver Sands, Florida’s Great Northwest and 850 Business Magazine.

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