The Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has a goal of attracting 1,300 new jobs to the area in 2013, but there's a problem. The local workforce doesn't have the skills that aerospace companies – the agency's top target industry – are seeking. At Wednesday's EDA investor meeting, members discussed the severity of the workforce issue.
It's not the quality of life that prospective businesses find unattractive, although Bay County does have a reputation as a vacation destination to overcome. "We have a wonderful community 365 days out of the year," said Mario Gisbert, City Manager for the City of Panama City Beach. "It's not just a place to vacation and we need to get that point across."
County government leaders are breaking down barriers to economic expansion. "The county commission has made that a priority for us to look at rules, regulations, procedures [and] policies... to try and make a climate that's conducive to bringing industries in here or retaining industries," said Ed Smith, County Manager.
Neal Wade, EDA Executive Director, said there are three major aerospace projects in the agency's pipeline. "We've got to now focus to be sure that we've got the training programs and the education programs to grow the aerospace workers that we're going to need to compete," said Wade.
The EDA has an attitude of "if we build it they will come," but community leaders are wrestling with the issue of how much to invest right now. "There's a little bit of how many can you train before the jobs come and how many can you have in place when the industry isn't here yet," said Kim Bodine, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board. "It's a little bit of the chicken and the egg."
Wade said understanding expectations is the first step toward growing a new crop of workers. "We're able to start saying these are the kind of training programs that we need to have in Bay County," he said. "We're going to put our partners at the same table working to come up with a plan to train the workforce we need."
Despite the challenges, Wade sees opportunities. Bay County has made the "short list" of communities under consideration by an as yet unnamed aerospace company that could create about 500 jobs, he said.