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Why Okaloosa County Lands Droves of Defense Jobs

Business- and military-friendly climate helps Greater Fort Walton Beach soar in the defense and security sector.

By Kim Madlom on December 30, 2022

Vertex Solutions in Okaloosa County, FL
Vertex Solutions

With Eglin Air Force Base in its backyard, Okaloosa County’s defense and security sector is at the forefront of innovation, creating and testing new technology.

The region’s military installations are the top economic engine and generate even more jobs as magnets for defense contracting firms. Okaloosa County is home to eight of the top 10 defense contractors in the country. Those contractors include globally known names like Boeing alongside veteran-founded companies like On-Point Defense Technologies.

Vertex Solutions, a certified woman-owned small business headquartered in Niceville, partners with hundreds of government and private-sector organizations for human capital training solutions and consulting services.

“We’ve been dealing with the military for more than 30 years, and we understand what it takes to implement new, emerging technology in the military training system,” says Dennis Wikoff, president and COO. “Access is what matters. Our whole goal is to identify ways to find the highest fidelity learning possible and make it available.”

Why Greater Fort Walton Beach?

Dennis Wikoff, president and COO of Vertex Solutions, praises the region’s highly skilled workforce, including military retirees, and the access to the colleges and universities leading research and development in artificial intelligence, software development and aviation training.

Access to training is key to solving the pilot shortage that threatens to impact both national security and the commercial airline industry.

Vertex is leading the design and development of an open-source, scalable, extensible extended reality (XR) training ecosystem to support pilot training across the continuum of learning.

A system based on centralized facilities means everyone must travel to do the training, Wikoff says. Vertex is developing solutions that expand training beyond reliance on a centralized flight simulator by replicating much of that training with virtual simulators, allowing pilots to be trained faster and more efficiently. Lightweight, small-footprint, low-cost XR simulators provide pilot trainees with greater access to high-fidelity simulators, delivering demonstrably higher proficiency in less time.

This approach will enhance mission readiness and generate better pilots faster, closing the gap for lack of well-trained pilots and continuing the nation’s lead in aviation dominance, Wikoff says.

The presence of Eglin Air Force Base makes the region work for Vertex and others in the defense and security sector. “These military establishments create opportunity,” he says. “It also helps that Florida is a business-friendly state and a military-friendly state.”

Boeing in Okaloosa County, FL

Why Region Is the Right Fit

As one of the area’s largest employers, Reliance Test & Technology has a significant presence in Crestview, where it develops and tests new war-fighting equipment.

Reliance provides engineering and technical support to the Eglin Test and Training Range Complex and the National Radar Cross Section Test Facility for the Air Force under the Eglin-Operation and Maintenance Services Contract.

On-Point Defense Technologies LLC, based in Fort Walton Beach, is a veteran-owned small business supporting the U.S. Department of Defense, the private sector and international customers through rapid concept modeling, engineering, systems integration, testing, manufacturing and depot support services. The region is a good fit for the company.

“The Panhandle offers a large employee talent pool of prior service military and defense contractors,” says Fred Schor, general partner and strategic adviser.

Boeing Expanding in Fort Walton Beach

The region is also a good fit for Boeing, which is expanding its Global Services to the region. With a major presence in Fort Walton Beach, Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company, as well as the leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, and it operates a robust defense division.

The $2.5 million expansion project involves a 20,000-square-foot addition to the company’s existing facility located in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce & Technology Park.

“Boeing is proud to partner with Okaloosa County and the City of Fort Walton Beach as we continue to support our U.S. and international defense customers,” says Hank Sanders, Boeing Global Services director for support equipment & special operations forces. “At the Fort Walton Beach site, Boeing teammates provide a spectrum of support solutions to ensure our customers can meet their mission requirements. This expansion is both a testament to the expertise of our employees and further development of the area’s aviation and aerospace industry.”

TeCMEN, an acronym for Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network, promote companies in Okaloosa County involved with STEM – science, technology, engineering & math.

Get Ready for TeCMEN Industry Day

Forward-looking area businesses involved with technology, manufacturing or defense should mark their calendars to attend the annual TeCMEN Industry Day.

TeCMEN, an acronym for Technology Coast Manufacturing & Engineering Network, began in 2017 to promote companies in Okaloosa County involved with STEM – science, technology, engineering & math. Participating businesses at Industry Day rent information booths, and those in attendance at the 2022 expo represented industries such as aerospace and aviation, biometric technology, information technology, metal fabrication, micro-electronics, precision machining and more.

Organizers with One Okaloosa Economic Development Council say the one-day event provides an excellent venue for businesses to highlight existing products/capabilities, roll out new products and capabilities, connect with existing customers, and identify new customers and industry partners.

Activities occur from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and feature breakfast refreshments, guest speakers, panel discussions, marketing breaks, workshops, a keynote luncheon and a networking reception.

The sixth-annual TeCMEN Industry Day is scheduled for May 10, 2023, at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center.

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