The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity believes the community that plans will be the more competitive community when it comes to economic development.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity believes the community that plans will be the more competitive community when it comes to economic development.

Last week, representatives of the DEO and the city of Port St. Joe began that planning process as part of a pilot project called Competitive Florida.

The city is one of four areas – three other Florida cities as well as DeSoto County – to be included in the pilot project, which aims to provide local officials with a foundation for assessing community assets and tailored to those assets a plan for future economic development.

The DEO is providing technical assistance and $40,000 in grant funds to boost the planning process, a central goal to begin to build a statewide repository of case studies in economic development – the challenges and successes – from which other communities can learn.

“You are the pilots for us,” said Julie Dennis, DEO coordinator for Competitive Florida. “We want to know what has worked and what hasn’t. This is your chance to tell your story.”

All work under the grant must be completed by the end of the fiscal year June 30 with a community case study the final document to be produced.

The key, Dennis said, was more than just putting an action plan for economic development on paper. Those actions plans must result in action.

“This all leads to the development of an action plan,” Dennis said. “Getting things on paper helps us get organized, but we are more interested in the actual doing of things than putting things on paper.”

To craft that plan, a major step is an inventory of community assets.

Those assets can be organizations, natural resources, individuals, historical, cultural or infrastructure, for examples.

By assessing a community’s strengths and crafting plans to tap those assets, organic and achievable economic goals can emerge, according to Competitive Florida’s mission statement.

“Are we putting our best foot forward in promoting those assets to the outside world?” asked Port St. Joe city manager Jim Anderson.

A significant aspect of the pilot project is the sharing of information.

Economic development and elected officials from the four communities will meet as a final part of the process, sharing experiences.

That begins what the DEO hopes will be a long-term project to create a kind of central clearinghouse for economic development efforts around the state, leading to a template of sorts for communities to enhance their competitiveness.

The disparate spots on the spectrum occupied by communities, Dennis said, were apparent during the introductory meetings with local officials at the four participating communities.

Whereas the city of Port St. Joe can offer written strategic documents from the Port of Port St. Joe Gulf Coast State College and the Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. (EDA) as well as a comp plan element pertaining to economic development, Dennis said other communities have nothing on paper and no real organized plans.

The city of Port St. Joe applied to be included in the pilot program, modeled after a similar program in Mississippi, while drafting the economic development element to the city’s comprehensive plan.

The comp plan effort served as a sort of introductory to the community for the DEO, which continued that introduction process last week.

In addition to a tour of the community, local and DEO staff worked on a scope of work for the pilot project and a timeline, with dollars attached to deliverables at each step, and local stakeholders needed to provide input and help craft the final case study.

A final scope of work is to be submitted to the DEO before the end of the week.