A collection of businesspeople, city and county officials and various other residents and community leaders in the Opportunity Florida region recently returned from a trip to Mississippi to visit areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Opportunity Florida worked to put together the trip to observe how Mississippi was able to come back strong from the 2005 storm.
The trip, funded by Gulf Power Company and Enterprise Florida, was hosted by Opportunity Florida to allow members of the ten-county rural economic development organization to speak with people who had already gone through a weather event similar to Hurricane Michael and been able to bring their communities back from the devastation wreaked by Katrina.
The itinerary included visits to various sites in Hattiesburg, Pascagoula and Lucedale, MS. Members spoke with community and business leaders that had worked together to rebuild and bring back the towns that had seen terrible damage from the storm. Representatives from economic development organizations and businesses told the group about various projects underway since Katrina including a shipbuilder and a maritime training academy.
Opportunity Florida representatives were also able to speak directly with economic developers, a community affairs representative from Chevron and various state and local officials. They heard first-hand about the responses to the hurricane damage and some of the pitfalls as well as the successes that came about. According to George Freeland, President of the Jackson County (MS) Economic Development Foundation, it is extremely important to engage with state and federal officials as well as to develop public and private partnerships in order to fully leverage any and all resources available.
Richard Williams, Executive Director of Opportunity Florida and CareerSource Chipola, said the trip was valuable for many reasons, “We’ve learned that a lot of people involved in recovery efforts don’t necessarily have experience working in a rural area like ours and we felt we needed to find a rural area that could share their knowledge to help us learn how to better utilize different programs to help us find our way to a complete and successful recovery.”
Opportunity Florida is a ten-county regional economic development organization located in Northwest Florida. The counties include Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla, Walton and Washington. Its focus is to strengthen existing businesses within the region as well as help create jobs that will increase the economic prosperity of our residents. Opportunity Florida markets the region and its assets throughout the state and the country.