The work of economic developers is the lifeblood of their communities. Largely because of their work, Florida stands today as a leader in research and innovation.

The Florida High Tech Corridor Council’s (The Corridor Council) partnerships with economic development councils across the region allow us to be in contact with economic developers making a positive impact. Since 2015, The Corridor Council has been proud to support the Daniel Webster Young Innovator Scholarship Award, which honors economic developers across Florida with outstanding industry achievements in their respective communities. Presented each year at the Florida Economic Development Council conference, the award provides up to $5,000 to fund the pursuit of a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) credential. This designation represents a standard of excellence in the profession and a desire to further one’s impact on their community.

Through sponsorship of this award, The Corridor Council also honors Congressman Daniel Webster who championed the concept of our organization from the start and was essential in obtaining the state funding to make it a reality. In the same spirit of his commitment to the growth of The Corridor region, economic developers who receive this scholarship exhibit unparalleled dedication to the growth of their communities. Whether working to improve community infrastructure or attract new investors, industry thrives thanks to the dedication of these hardworking men and women.

Read on to learn more about winners of the 2019 Daniel Webster Young Innovator Scholarship Award.

Antonio Jefferson, City Manager, City of Gretna

Antonio Jefferson grew up in Gadsden County, Florida. After observing how the local economy depended on the farming industry, he dreamed of coming back to “have some meaningful impact, both in terms of politics and economic growth.”

Jefferson studied at Barry University, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and later at the University of Phoenix, where he earned an MBA. A military veteran, Jefferson has served in both the United States Army and the United States Marine Corp, which prepared him for jobs in local law enforcement upon his return to Gretna. Beginning as a correctional officer, he eventually retired from the force as police chief.

In 2001, Jefferson embarked on his economic development career. In service to Gadsden County’s economic and community development organization, he convinced the county commission to provide over $100,000 of economic development funding, worked with six new businesses in the area and received 1.4 million grant dollars to build infrastructure and train workers.

Jefferson was appointed to his current role as city manager of Gretna, Florida, in 2006. Years of military and public service experience gave him an intimate knowledge of the community he now serves. In his current position, Jefferson authored the first economic development plan for Gretna, which successfully invested $26 million in business, millions in infrastructure, water and wastewater, and created more than 150 permanent jobs.

After 13 years in the industry, Jefferson is proud of the work he’s accomplished. “I have made a difference in my community, my region and statewide by influencing our elected class to invest in economic development, and develop and make changes to policies that support a better climate for business,” he said.

With the Daniel Webster Young Innovator Scholarship, Jefferson will finish the few courses he has left to become a certified economic developer.

Garrett Wright, Vice President, Bay Economic Development Alliance

With just five years of industry experience, Garrett Wright has quickly become acquainted with the practicalities of economic development.

After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering and a master’s degree in economic development, Wright served as the director of business and economic development at the Area Development Partnership in Greater Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Only 24 years old at the time, he was essential in several important economic development projects, including solar field developments, information technology centers and manufacturing facilities.

Later, Wright worked at Eutaw Construction Company, where he acted as project manager on large civil construction projects in the region. This experience taught Wright the important role of infrastructure construction within economic development.

Today, Wright serves as the vice president of Bay Economic Development Alliance, aiding business retention and recruitment. His mission was vital after Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle in October 2018. Wright helped local businesses reestablish operations to retain their services and workers to the area. “We assisted numerous companies’ management teams in securing temporary locations, housing assistance, contractor connections and many other tasks, all while working from a temporary office because ours was destroyed.”

Along with hurricane recovery, Wright is developing the local economy outside of its usual tourism and military industries. To promote other economic opportunities, he’s created new business retention, expansion and recruitment programs, and developed new targeted marketing efforts.

Wright also invests in the next generation of skilled laborers. The Bay Economic Development Alliance has partnered with Florida State University Panama City and Gulf Coast State College to create the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Institute (AMI2). This program aims to be a pipeline, preparing future skilled laborers for the local workforce.

With the Daniel Webster Young Innovator Scholarship, Wright will take courses to become a certified economic developer and bring what he’s learned back to the Institute. “By bringing items learned from practitioners and best practices back to AMI2, our effectiveness as economic developers will only increase.”

A regional economic development initiative of: