by Aaron London
Checking items off a bucket list is a goal for many people looking to improve their lives, but Flagler County officials are hoping to fill the buckets on their lists.
Rather than new experiences, the county’s bucket list comprises four areas — live, learn, work and play – that form the foundation for economic development efforts. And for Amy Lukasik, the county’s tourism director who also oversees economic development, the “learn” bucket is overflowing.
“That bucket for the county, we are actually in a really good position. It’s probably one of the strongest of the four buckets,” she said. And with those learning and training opportunities, that means Flagler County is in position to attract new business development and compete against other communities.
Lukasik cited Flagler Schools’ Classrooms to Careers program as well as the Flagship programs in the district’s primary and secondary schools as economic development drivers.
“It’s very attractive to future prospects, whether they want to expand or come into the county,” she said. “That is something we can hang our hat on.”
But the county may be hanging more than its hat on the workforce development and training landscape available to residents. In the coming weeks, Lukasik said county officials will be working to tighten the focus on learning and its relationship to economic development.
Specifically, that means taking advantage of a burgeoning health care sector with major projects on the horizon including the University of North Florida’s medical nexus, slated for the Town Center area, Jacksonville University’s launch of a new healthcare education program in Palm Coast, as well as expansion plans by AdventHealth and Flagler Health+.
“That is the one area we are going to put all our outreach efforts into,” Lukasik said of the health sciences industry in Flagler County. “As far as targeted industries, we will laser-focus on the one that makes the most sense, the healthcare sector.”
That doesn’t mean other industries and sectors will be ignored, but county officials want to take advantage of the growth opportunities in healthcare-related industries right now.
“The groundwork is already there so let’s capitalize on it,” Lukasik said. “There are so many different segments to the healthcare industry we can target. If we are focused on that we have better odds.”
That focus on the healthcare sector, combined with the training and educational opportunities already in Flagler as well as those on the way, is something Dolores Key, Flagler County economic development manager, said is a necessary ingredient for economic development in the county.
“You need to have a workforce,” said Key, who joined the county administration about six months ago after working on economic development issues in South Florida. “Some companies will relocate if they are bringing their employees with them, however, companies like to see that you have a workforce in place. It makes it more desirable for a company to invest in an area or expand in an area.”
Key said the AdventHealth, UNF and other projects only add to the potential. She said the planned expansion of the nursing program at Daytona State College’s Palm Coast campus is another factor in tightening the county’s focus on the healthcare industry.
“That obviously is important to what is going on in the healthcare sector,” she said. “The sector is having a hard time keeping up with the demand.”
Key said keeping a talent pipeline flowing, especially with new technologies expanding opportunities in many industry sectors, is another important factor to consider.
“Technology is merging with medical so you need people who understand how to use advanced computer skills that can merge with medical technology advancements,” she said.
And the county’s demographic trends also point toward an increased emphasis on the healthcare sector.
“When you look at the demographics of who is already living here, the largest growing sector is the 55-plus age group,” she said. “You have a population that needs medical care. That is demand.”
That demand not only fuels economic growth, it increases employment opportunities in the community.
“That helps bring value-added jobs to your county,” she said. “You want to increase the base salary of your jobs by 10 or 15 percent as a value-added job.”
Key said service industry jobs, such as retail, are not enough to push economic growth. “Your economic engine needs the others that are more stable,” she said.
That makes focusing on healthcare an important strategic goal.
“Building upon the forward-thinking vision to establish MedNex by Mayor Milissa Holland of Palm Coast is a natural way to ensure the success of an economic cluster. In my opinion, instead of just going after anything and everything, a targeted approach needs to be taken to assist those types of businesses and people to come here,” she said.
Aaron London is a reporter and columnist who has covered business and economics for 27 years. He has worked for newspapers in Ohio and Florida and is also an adjunct professor of journalism at Daytona State College.