Jackson County commissioners, Marianna city commissioners and several local business leaders were asked for their input Monday at a luncheon for the new CEO of Florida’s Great Northwest, Kim Wilmes. Florida’s Great Northwest, a non-profit business development group funded by private and public sources, is the new recipient of a $334,508 grant from the US Department of Commerce.
“We will be starting a regional study with the $300,000,” Wilmes explained in the Lafayette Room at Jim’s Buffet and Grill. “What you put in is what you will get out of it. The University of West Florida is our partner in this and we need community input and feedback. Let me know the good and the not so good. The worst thing is when something is wrong and nobody says anything.” Wilmes noted that the strong points for economic development for Jackson County and the region are the “I-10 corridor” and the area’s suitability “for manufacturing jobs and distribution centers.”
Wilmes is known for her straight talk and her honesty. Her specialty is marketing, said her host and introducer Bill Stanton, director of the Jackson County Economic Development Council. “She is eminently qualified in the realm of marketing,” Stanton said. “She truly walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk. In 12 years at Enterprise Florida, she rose to the top.”
After growing up in Jacksonville, Wilmes received an MBA from the University of Florida in 1994. Wishing to work with the “big companies only,” she explained, she left Florida as soon as she could and worked during the next several years for Burke, Inc. of Cincinnati and The Link Group of Atlanta. But she missed the weather in Florida and wanted to raise her children here. She joined the state of Florida’s “Enterprise Florida” in economic development in 2002. She is in the process of moving from Orlando to Santa Rosa Beach with her artist/potter husband Tracy and their two children aged 9 and 11, she explained after the Monday noon meeting.
Florida’s Great Northwest serves the Panhandle all the way from Escambia in the west to Jackson, Gulf and Franklin counties in the east. The $334,508 grant is an Economic Adjustment Assistance grant and will be used to write an economic development plan. Wilmes stressed the importance of communities working together to her audience at Jim’s Buffet and Grill. “We’d like to see a survey, a town hall meeting, something in which key leaders throughout the community can be engaged,” she said. “We’re not out to make a report to sit on a shelf.”
Wilmes was frank when Marianna City Manager Jim Dean asked her what she envisioned for the Panhandle. “I don’t know yet,” she explained. “I’m hesitant to tell you anything because I’m new to the territory.” Others at the luncheon included county commissioners Eric Hill and Kenneth Stephens, city commissioners Kenneth Hamilton and Travis Ephraim, court clerk-elect Clay Rooks, Engineer David Melvin, Richard Williams of CareerSource Chipola, FPU manager Lynwood Tanner and WFEC CEO Russell Dunaway. Wilmes spent the rest of the day in Jackson County touring business sites with Stanton.
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