By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
Executive Director of One Okaloosa EDC
It seems everywhere you turn these days the tenuous state of our national economy is front and center. Pundits dissect comments made by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell with all the glee and intrigue of cryptographers deciphering ancient hieroglyphics. Great debates rage about whether we are already in an economic recession or not. Soaring inflation is now ever present. (The most recent barometer pegs it at 9.1% - well north of the Fed’s target of 2%.) Businesses face escalating costs of their critical inputs – especially materials and labor, as the war on talent continues to rage on. Families are left to grapple with food, shelter and energy prices that are now high enough to be illegal in 13 states. Bottom line, these are truly challenging times we find ourselves living in. Thankfully, we live in a state – and in a community – that know a thing or two about weathering storms. Mind you, this isn’t to say that we are immune from a downturn – far from it. (Anybody remember the “trifecta” we experienced between 2008 and 2010 with the Great Recession, Federal Sequestration and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?) What I am saying is that the “bones” of our state and local economy remain solid and, let’s be honest, not every state or community can say that.
That being said, it is worth noting that as One Okaloosa EDC set the stage for our next Strategic Plan covering the 2023-2025 timeframe, we surveyed more than 200 local business and civic leaders during the month of June. Given all the economic uncertainty out there at the moment, we included questions seeking their perspective on the local and state economy. On the question of how they felt about the national economy, 3% felt positive, 27% felt neutral (neither positive nor negative), and 70% felt negative. Conversely, when we asked about how they felt about the local economy, 44% felt positive, 41% felt neutral and only 15% felt negative – a pretty stark contrast for sure, but one that we feel speaks plainly to the healthy underpinning of our local economy and the good policy decisions of our community’s leadership in creating an environment where business can thrive without government overreach or interference.
Before I close, one area that has experienced unprecedented growth since the COVID-19 pandemic first took root in 2020 is new business formations. Some 5.4 million new business formations occurred during 2021 – a record. Okaloosa County startups have certainly accelerated as well, with many new businesses being started by military veterans. Taking note of this trend, I am very proud of the new Veteran Entrepreneur Video Series that we launched on our Startup Okaloosa web platform just last week. Our goal is to feature successful local Veteran entrepreneurs sharing their stories and obstacles overcome with a hope that other vets who may be considering staring businesses in the local area can glean something of value. Be sure to check out the first video in the series by visiting https://www.startupokaloosa.com/page/veteran-entrepreneur!