A little planning led to a helping hand for the city of Port St. Joe.

A little planning led to a helping hand for the city of Port St. Joe.

The city was selected this week as one of four cities and counties to participate in a pilot project coordinated through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The program, called the Competitive Florida Partnership, is a technical assistance program aimed at assisting communities, particularly rural communities, with ideas and strategies for economic development.

Port St. Joe, the city of White Springs, the city of Newberry and Desoto County were selected as the first four rural communities to participate in the program.

In part, city attorney Tom Gibson said, Port St. Joe rose on the radar of the DEO as officials pressed ahead with updates to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We’ve been over the last five or six years a lot more proactive with our comprehensive planning than we had been before,” Gibson said.

City officials, for example, have in the past year held several public hearings and meetings on the economic development component of the comp plan and the DEO has provided grant funds for an update to the Port of Port St. Joe master plan, a significant part of the city’s economic development.

“Obviously the port is a big player in any economic development we can get going, but this award is to the city and is broader in approach," Gibson said.

The two comp plan efforts has, in effect, allowed the DEO, the agency created after Gov. Rick Scott moved to consolidate the state’s economic development efforts, allowed the DEO to “get to know” the community, the first step in the application process for the Competitive Florida Program.

The program emphasizes that “Communities that take action to build and enhance the local economy while staying true to what makes them unique have a competitive advantage,” according to a release from the DEO.

The pilot project, which is open-ended at this time, will create a network among the four communities, facilitated by staff at the DEO, which is providing funding for the program, to examine assets, goals and strategies to produce economic development.

Meetings with local city and economic development officials will begin as soon as next week, Gibson said.

According to the DEO, the communities will work with the DEO to identify assets – from individuals to organizations to infrastructure to history to natural resources – and hone a strategy for creating economic growth mining and leveraging those assets.

“Our goal is to help create an opportunity economy in Florida, in which every community can offers jobs for the next generation,” said Jesse Panuccio, Executive Director of DEO. “Competitive Florida will help rural communities map their strengths and identify what makes them distinctive.”

Leaders in the community, the DEO release details, will decide on a path to economic development that fits the community and begin to “build a scope for the effort” while being encouraged to set realistic goals and design and develop innovative strategies.

“The DEO will assist these communities in creating strategic economic development plans that are tailored for each community’s unique assets,” the release continues.

Meanwhile, the communities, while moving in paths unique for those areas, will be sharing information in order to build a network for economic development in disparate areas of the state.

“DEO understands there is power in collaboration and this program will build an active network of passionate community leaders who share and learn from each other’s experiences,” Panuccio said.

Gibson added, “If the pilot project produces I would think they would want to expand the program.”