The Small Business Development Center held a business roundtable meeting on Tuesday at the Gulf Coast State College Gulf/Franklin Center as a meeting of the minds for the local business sector.
An audience of 50, made up of local business owners and entrepreneurs, registered for the panel moderated by Robert Goetz, director of the SBDC and included panels guests Mayor Mel Magidson, BOCC Chairman Tan Smiley, Economic Development Alliance chairman Guerry Magidson, Chamber of Commerce director Aaron Farnsley and Ralph Roberson, Board of Trustees Chair for Gulf Coast State College.
The panelists were introduced by Loretta Costin, director of the GCSC campus.
The goal of the meeting was to look at the economic climate in Gulf County as seen from the perspective of leaders and business owners. While the group acknowledged that Port St. Joe was once established as a mill town, which has since transitioned to a tourist area, making a difficult economy for startup businesses.
Guerry Magidson expressed that once the shipping channel is dredged, the Port of Port St. Joe would bring jobs to town and help the city reclaim its place in the industrial world.
“Gulf County’s future looks very bright as far as economic development goes,” said Magidson.
Smiley shared his personal journey of opening a car wash and day care and thanked GCSC for featuring programs that would culminate in graduates obtaining business licenses, the key to starting any venture.
Roberson discussed the advanced technology center at GCSC, an unconventional classroom inside of which students can study science, engineering and culinary arts.
He went on to predict that technology careers will be vital for the future growth of the area and create upward of 3,400 jobs in the next five years.
Farnsley explained to the room that as technology becomes more advanced and the economy changes, it will allow workers to live anywhere. He believed that it was important to get the word out that Gulf County could be the place for people with money, who will then spend it within the community.
“You need good healthcare, good education and a high quality of life,” said Farnsley. “We need to attract high-paying jobs to see improvement in the community.”
Some members of the panel put their eggs in the port basket, as a surefire way to stimulate the local economy, though Roberson said that a serviceable railroad, four-lane highway access and high speed internet are the main roadblocks to Port St. Joe becoming a boom town.
Roberson said, “You can have the greatest port in the world, but if you can’t get to it, it doesn’t matter.”
Mayor Magidson commended the Tourist Development Council for their role in marketing Gulf County across the Southeast and hoped to see them expand their reach.
“Tourism is the base of the economy right now,” said Magidson. “It’s not the end game. It’s one leg of a strong economy.”
Guerry Magidson said that balancing industry and tourism while keeping the quality of life was the key to success.
The SBDC is a free service that delivers up-to-date consulting, training and technical assistance in all aspects of small business management. Business owners have access to free, confidential one-on-one consulting that cover startup, finances and marketing.
Serving six counties, the Port St. Joe branch of the SBDC is now located at GCSC. Director Goetz revealed plans to host free training sessions next year that will teach strategic planning to local entrepreneurs who want to take their businesses to the next level.