WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES – Although no follow-up meeting has taken place after a trip at which local officials and corporate representatives met with their counterparts in areas in Mississippi recovering from Hurricane Katrina, Career Source Chipola and Opportunity Florida Executive Director Richard Williams commits momentum remains steady as city and county officials plan for a total recovery from Hurricane Michael.
“There’s so many different aspects to the recovery,” Williams said. we’re not reliant on one single source to keep moving us forward. “Recovery takes time,” he later added. “This is a multi-year thing, and we have to remind ourselves that.”
The May trip demonstrated what recovery can look like if organizations take advantage of the time and new opportunities that become available in response to a catastrophic weather event.
The Mississippi cities toured included Hattiesburg, Pascagoula and Lucedale. Fourteen years after Hurricane Katrina, those cities are still benefiting from state, federal, and grassroots supports.
Local officials who went on the trip described the new housing, museums, and business-community partnerships that emerged in response to the storm’s impact as sophisticated and inspiring – and a blueprint for what could replicated locally.
However, for now, there is a lot of “hurry up and wait,” according to Williams.
“The good news is there’s still a lot of time to make decisions, but the key is that everyone is trying to do some planning – and that planning is coming together,” Williams said.
A pertinent aspect for the development of the local area includes a vital and committed education-business partnership.
As Washington County District Schools has recently discussed an expansion of programs at Florida Panhandle Technical College, Williams said CareerSource Chipola will likely work with the district to provide some tuition assistance for programs that link directly to job needs in the area, such as building trades and health care specialities.
Williams also said that CareerSource Chipola is looking to promote a work-from-home campaign that will inspire people – especially students who are soon to enter the work force – to work locally instead of venturing out.
“We’re going to let people know that there are some good jobs here at home instead of going off to Panama City or Tallahassee to work, we need you to take them right here,” Williams said.
He noted the unemployment numbers are dropping, but the decrease is related to a loss of labor, not the addition of new jobs.
As recovery workers continue to dwindle out over the next few months, the picture of what the job situation and the economic needs will become clearer. At that point, local officials should be ready to respond with options to boost economic development and stability, according to Williams.
Also, it will take time to learn the parameters of the $91 billion in disaster aid that Congress approved for allocation across areas nationwide impacted by natural disasters.
“Now that Congress has acted … we’re trying to figure out what the rules are going to be. Until the rules are released, you’re kind of tied up.”