Milissa Holland’s plan: 3,000 jobs and 250 new firms in five years.
Leaders in the county agree on one thing: Flagler needs a unified vision for economic development. County Commissioner Milissa Holland has been meeting with elected officials for two months and has been seeking consensus on a new plan she calls the “Economic Framework for Flagler County.”
The plan calls for establishing a new economic development organization, which would clearly define the roles of government and business groups in improving the economy. But the first step is to agree on a county identity.
A county brand
Holland called on Chris Carey, a county resident who has been a marketing executive for companies such as Jell-O Pudding and Capital One, to help with the branding aspect. Carey delivered a presentation last week to economic leaders of the county, emphasizing the importance of a unified marketing strategy, or a brand.
The county needs to be recognizable as its own place, with its own identity and recognizable qualities, she said, and not just be known as a place somewhere between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine.
“That’s where that branding comes in,” she said. “Right now, we’re a place that’s close to other places. We need to change that.”
Mayor Jon Netts was among the leaders who attended Carey’s presentation. He said it’s particularly challenging to find a unified message because the county is so diverse, with Bunnell, Palm Coast and Flagler Beach all within 10 miles.
“Economic development means something different in each community,” Netts said. “If we’re going to have a brand, we all have to be able to buy into it …
“If we can find something we can all agree to and take partial ownership of, that’s the first step to economic development.”
At the meeting, he suggested “The Great Outdoors” as the unifying theme. Holland agreed. Bunnell has ranching, farming, agriculture. Palm Coast has bike trails, golf, tennis. Flagler Beach and the other communities to the east have the beach. Taking it one step further, Holland likes the idea of “The Greatest Outdoors,” to make the community stand out even more, and to differentiate itself from other communities on the coast of Florida.
“When you’re talking about branding a community, you have to find those assets that brand each municipality and then each one takes that tool and brands it into their vision and applies it to marketing action plan that works for them,” she said.
In that way, the brand doesn’t get in the way of each municipality’s own economic development initiatives, but enhances them. But, she said, a new organization is needed to implement the new brand.
Next step: the EDO
An intergovernmental meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14. That was postponed until January. But at that meeting, which all the municipal leaders in the county are scheduled to attend, Holland hopes they’ll reach consensus on The Greatest Outdoors as the county’s brand.
Then, she’ll propose establishing an economic development organization. The EDO, as she calls it, will comprise a partners council with representatives from a variety of organizations, including Enterprise Flagler, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates, community nonprofit organizations, educational institutions including Daytona State College and Flagler County Public Schools, real estate associations, homeowners and other government entities.
Another key element is to hire a “top gun.” Holland said an individual would be selected to oversee the implementation of the entire plan, with specific authority and rules to be determined.
Holland’s framework has many other facets to it, including a plan to support local businesses. One popular idea is to collaborate with Daytona State College to establish a business incubator. But she doesn’t want government to be in charge of job creation.
“I don’t think it is government’s role to create jobs,” Holland said. “I think it’s government’s role to get out of the way and let businesses create jobs … to support their initiatives and not hinder the opportunities they have.”
Netts is looking forward to learning more about the economic development organization, as long as it doesn’t turn into just another layer of bureaucracy.
Holland said the plan is ready for feedback, and the first step is to establish the vision, or the brand identity.
“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” Holland said. “But hopefully, it will allow us to not have this same conversation 20 years from now.”
Whatever happens at next month’s meeting, Netts said, it’s refreshing that Holland has taken a lead in the effort.
“We’ve gone from everybody talking about the problem to someone trying to do something,” he said. “Is her solution the solution? I don’t know, but now we’re talking about it.”