Chamber board members, Chamber staff, and area business leaders traveled to our nation's capital to participate in the annual Northwest Florida Military Fly-In. Representatives from Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties made the trek to Washington to meet with members of Congress and hear directly from military leadership about the key issues facing our Northwest Florida military bases.
The first day featured the Day on the Hill, hosted by our own Congressman Matt Gaetz. Day one featured presentations on Special Operations Forces and Military Readiness, next year's defense budget, and Next Generation Aircraft and Hypersonics. Two additional Florida Congressmen, Representative Michael Waltz (R-Boyton Beach) and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami), addressed attendees providing their perspectives on the future of the military in Florida.
Day Two featured presentations from representatives from The Pentagon and the armed forces. Presentations included an update on Global Naval Operations and the importance of keeping the military testing ranges in the Gulf of Mexico. Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Navy James Balocki also provided his outlook for naval installations and facilities.
The fly-in also provided the opportunity for representatives of the five counties to share best practices and discuss ways that Northwest Florida can work together to expand military missions in our area.
On the latest Florida Chamber Bottom Line Senator Doug Broxson, Chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, sat down to discuss the adverse effects of Assignment of Benefits (AOB) abuse, and the bill he is proposing to put an end to it.
“For over 100 years, we never had a problem with how to file a claim,” said Broxson. “In 1974, we had the first AOB claim ever filed, and then in 2018 we had 36,000.”
Click here to watch the full interview.
On the latest Toddcast, we hear from Escambia County’s newest County Commissioner, Robert Bender. Recently elected to District 4, Commissioner Bender shares his thoughts on the key issues facing our county.
The month of February saw many pieces of the funding puzzle for the Pensacola Airport's Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility come into place. First, the Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors contributed an additional $10 million to the $56 million that the board had previously approved. The City of Pensacola has been the lead agency on this project and Mayor Grover Robinson presented to the Triumph Gulf Coast board on the day of the vote. Robinson's initial request was for $12.5 million.
Triumph Gulf Coast board members made it clear upon approving their funding that they did not want to receive any additional requests for the project and that they would only move forward with their funding once all other sources had been secured. One other addendum to securing Triumph funding was that ST-Engineering must agree to keep the agreed upon jobs in Pensacola for at least seven years. Triumph previously agreed to a three-year requirement.
This approval came after both the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission voted to contribute an additional $5 million each to the project. The total contribution for the city and the county to the project is $15 million. The Pensacola City Council vote was a narrow 4-3 margin with council members Ann Hill, Sherry Myers, and Jared Moore voting against the additional funding. Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill was the lone vote against the additional county funding.
The final major piece of funding came through when the Florida Department of Transportation notified Mayor Robinson of a commitment of $20 million towards the project. The letter to the mayor stated that the money would be taken from other transportation projects, but did not specify which ones.
That leaves the project roughly $4.8 million of its total funding goal. It is believed that the city will make up the balance of the funds on its own.
District Four Escambia County School Board Member Patty Hightower spoke at Pensacola Young Professionals event on the process for appointing the next Escambia County Superintendent of Schools. While there have been no concrete steps taken yet, Hightower did express some opinions on what the selection process might look like.
Public input was definitely a priority to Hightower. She stated that she could envision a citizens board that would provide input and potentially vet some of the candidates. She also said that having town halls and allowing multiple ways for the public to engage was important.
One issue that will need to be considered is when would the appointment take place and would the new superintendent have an on-ramping period when that person would work with current Superintendent Malcolm Thomas for a period of time to get on-the-job training before officially taking over. Thomas' term ends in November of 2020. A possible scenario would have the new superintendent starting in the 2020 Summer and learning the area before officially starting.
Another topic that will need to be addressed in compensation for the new superintendent. The state provides some salary guidelines for an appointed superintendent, but the school board will either need to set or negotiate the salary of the new superintendent. Hightower shared salary data from similar sized counties to Escambia. You can find that data in the photo at the bottom of the page. Hightower stated that was pleasantly surprised that the salaries in these counties were not as high as she expected.
The school board will also need to decide issues such as whether it takes a simple majority or super-majority to fire the superintendent. There is currently no timetable for making these decisions.
Ever wonder who wears the red coats at all of our Chamber events? It’s our wonderful Chamber Ambassadors! On the latest Toddcast, we hear from Ambassador President Eddie Murray as he explains the Ambassador program and how these volunteers serve as the “Face of the Chamber”.
On January 25th, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of Greater Pensacola Chamber President/CEO Clay Ingram as CEO of Volunteer Florida.
“I am happy to announce the appointment of Clay Ingram to lead our state’s volunteer efforts as CEO of Volunteer Florida,” said Governor DeSantis. “Between his leadership in the Florida Legislature and his advocacy for the Pensacola community, this was an easy choice. I know Clay will make Floridians proud and lead the agency with the utmost integrity.”
Clay Ingram is a Pensacola native, having served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018. In addition to his legislative duties, he has also served as President and CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce since 2015. Very active in his community, Clay is a member of Gonzalez United Methodist Church and serves as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida, United Methodist Children’s Home of Northwest Florida, Achieve Escambia and the Florida State University Alumni Association. He graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in general communication in 2000.
With Escambia County now in official possession of Outlying Field 8 (OLF-8), the Escambia County Commission must now decide what is to be done with the 630 acres of land surrounding Navy Federal Credit Union. At the January Committee of the Whole meeting, the commission considered two offers that, combined, would put all of the property in private hands and net the county about $5 million in profit.
Navy Federal submitted an offer to the county last year to purchase 100 acres immediately surrounding their campus for $4.2 million. As a part of that offer, Navy Federal pledged that an additional 300 jobs would be created. While the county commission has not made a formal response to the offer, comments from the commissioners have been favorable. Bill Pearson with Navy Federal was present at the Committee of the Whole meeting to answer any lingering questions. The Navy Federal offer to the county can be found here.
An additional offer for the remainder of the OLF-8 property submitted to the county was also discussed at the meeting. Hemmer Consulting is the lead group in a partnership that made the offer to purchase the remaining 530 acres for $18 million in cash. Hemmer and his attorney attended the Committee of the Whole and provided an overview of their offer. Commissioners were intrigued by the offer and the potential to make a profit off the sale, but there were concerns that they proposal did not provide specifics about what was going to be built on the 530 acres.
Commissioner Jeff Bergosh was most vocal about needing more details about the group's plans for the property before he could vote for a sale. Bergosh has been adament throughout this process that the property be developed to create jobs and not to provide additional housing. Bergosh also shared his concern that selling the property would eliminate the county's Triumph Gulf Coast project request from consideration. Hemmer stated that they wanted to work with the county and the surrounding community to come with a plan for the property. You can find the Hemmer offer here.
The general consensus following the discussion among the commissioners was that the county needed more time and to stay on course with developing a Master Plan that will identify the best use for the property before pursuing a sale of all 630 acres.
In one of former Governor Rick Scott’s final acts as governor, former Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward was appointed to the Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors to complete the term of Stan Connally, who left the board in September 2018. Hayward did not participate in the January meeting as he was awaiting paperwork from the Secretary of State’s office to be completed before he could officially join the board.
Executive Director Susan Skelton confirmed that the required semi-annual reports had been filed to state officials. Triumph Gulf Coast Chairman Don Gaetz provided an overview of some of the data found in the report.
In the seventeen months since receiving the initial round of funding, Triumph Gulf Coast has approved fourteen projects from all eight counties with funding of over $118 million. Gaetz stated that the $118 million has attracted $405 million in matching outside public and private funds for the approved projects. 3,380 new direct jobs and 5,056 indirect and induced jobs would be created by the seven approved infrastructure projects. Gaetz also stated that the seven approved workforce/training projects will create over 9,300 industry certifications at a cost per certificate of $1,400.
While the Pensacola Airport/ST-Aerospace project was placed on the January agenda, the only comment that was made is that the City of Pensacola is still working to secure the necessary funding by the March 31 deadline.
The Triumph board also approved negotiating the hire of Randy Lewis as an outside consultant to monitor projects that have been approved by the board to ensure that projects are in compliance with the established laws and guidelines.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis addressed 250 attendees at the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce's 2019 Legislative Luncheon. Patronis' remarks focused on some key issues that will be considered during the 2019 legislative session. The most prominent issue that Patronis will try to reform this year is Assignment of Benefits (AOB). This issue has become more prominent following the hurricanes that have struck Florida the past few years. Patronis cited legislation filed by State Senator Doug Broxson as important in protecting Florida consumers from unscrupulous actors.
Patronis also stressed that the Northwest Florida delegation needs to stick together to make sure that our area's interests are addressed during session. Patronis also took questions from attendees.
The luncheon also featured remarks from Chamber Board Chairman Steve Moorhead, who highlighted the Chamber's advocacy accomplishments in 2018 and an overview of current Chamber activities. Chamber Policy Committee Chairman Ray Walker provided his vision for the Policy Committee and indicated that the committee will look at doing a local government event similar to the Legislative Luncheon.
The Legislative Luncheon was also attended by State Representatives Jayer Williamson, Mike Hill, and Alex Andrade as well as Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, Escambia County Commissioners Steven Barry and Robert Bender and ECUA Board Member Vicki Campbell.