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Welcome to Business-Friendly Okaloosa County, FL

An award-winning combination of talent and infrastructure creates the perfect habitat for businesses in Fort Walton Beach and this West Florida region.

By Joe Morris on December 30, 2022

Eglin Federal Credit Union has been serving military and civilian personnel since 1954.
Eglin Federal Credit Union

More startups and longtime companies alike call Okaloosa County home, and small wonder. The same climate that draws droves of tourists is mirrored in its business-friendly policies, not to mention a wealth of other positives that include a strong workforce, world-class infrastructure and proximity to multiple modes of transportation.

“When we think about economic development, our product is our community as a whole, and that encompasses so much,” says Nathan Sparks, executive director of the One Okaloosa Economic Development Council. “We have the people, the training resources, the site inventory and everything else needed to be competitive on a global scale.”

Military-Minded Talent

“We have a very diverse economy here, and while the tourism and hospitality sector may be best known, we also are a hotbed of research and development, thanks to the strong military presence here,” Sparks says. “Eglin Air Force Base is the largest U.S. Air Force installation in the world, and we have several companies here that support its many missions and are doing high-level work on behalf of our nation’s war fighters.

“Those companies demand a very specific skill set, and our community is very adept at providing those through our partnerships with our local educational institutions and school districts.”

In addition to being a huge economic engine, with an estimated $9 million annual economic impact, Eglin also feeds talent back into the Fort Walton Beach area, thanks to separated service members – around 33,000, or 16% of the local population at last count – who opt to stay in the area to work for a military contractor or launch their own businesses.

Eglin Air Force Base is a huge economic driver for Okaloosa County, Florida.
Eglin Air Force Base

“We see about 1,300 men and women separate from Eglin and Hurlburt Field each year. Often they are only in their early 40s, so they have another career ahead of them and without exception, they bring an incredible work ethic to whatever they do.”

Nathan Sparks, One Okaloosa Economic Development Council

A Record of Success

Diverse employers also abound in the area. A wide and growing variety of startups and small businesses benefit from the services of Startup Okaloosa, which connects entrepreneurs with experienced owners for advice and support.

More established employers include Eglin Federal Credit Union, Lockheed Martin Corp., HCA Fort Walton-Destin Hospital, Harborwalk Hospitality LLC, CRC Data Technologies and many more.

Eglin Federal Credit Union, which opened in 1954 to serve the financial needs of nearby military and civilian personnel, now has nine locations offering a wide variety of financial services. An operations center and two more full-service branches will be added to its footprint soon.

Over the years, the area’s business-friendly climate has supported Eglin’s continued growth as well as its goals of putting members first, says Jerry Williams, president and CEO. That has led to such honors as being named Credit Union of the Year in Florida for 2021 in the $500+ million asset category by the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

“We are excited to be able to offer our current members convenient locations, and we look forward to extending the benefits of membership to our new neighbors in Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties,” Williams says. “We are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of members and in our communities, and it feels great to be recognized for our accomplishments from 2021.”

Infrastructure Assets

Okaloosa County also boasts serious infrastructure assets. Highway, rail, air and water transportation is readily available, including three airports and two deep seaports. They are joined by multiple building-ready sites and facilities, including Destin Industrial Park, Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park, Holt Industrial Park and Shoal River Ranch.

The area also boasts plentiful tax incentives, including the High Impact Performance Incentive Grants, which focus on industries like clean energy, corporate headquarters sites, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and many others.

“We have worked very hard to have the range of ‘plug and play’ options we have, from a talented workforce to physical spaces, and we continue to grow our offerings,” Sparks says. “No matter what a business needs, we’re making certain that we have plenty of options for them to consider.”

Coming Soon: A New Internet Choice

Fast, reliable internet is a key asset to students, residents and businesses in Okaloosa County, and joining the region’s broadband network is LiveOak Fiber.

In the area for decades is Cox Communications, which continues to provide customers with digital cable, internet and telephone services. Now, newly formed broadband service provider LiveOak is investing $100 million to construct and operate a high-speed fiber-optic network in Okaloosa County.

LiveOak officials say that besides serving customers in the urban and largely populated parts of Okaloosa County, one of the company’s key goals is to provide digital connectivity to customers living in more rural and underserved regions.

“Bringing high-speed fiber and the modern services it enables to these communities changes lives, improves education, advances health care options and grows local businesses.”

Jody Craft, president of LiveOak Fiber

Officials add that all LiveOak customers can expect internet service with speeds of 10G per second, which is the fastest available speed in the U.S. “Okaloosa County residents and businesses need the critical infrastructure and services to support a growing population and attract new investment,” says Jody Craft, president of LiveOak Fiber, in a press release.

Local economic development organization One Okaloosa EDC assisted LiveOak with the community review and data gathering of Okaloosa County that led to the company’s favorable decision.

LiveOak plans to begin connecting its first customers in the spring of 2023, and the company expects to create 50 jobs in Okaloosa County over the next three years.

Staff writer Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.

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