Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Economic Development: FPL's Simmons Breaches the Taboo, "Living Wage" Jobs 

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Wednesday morning's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting saw long time committee member, Florida Power & Light's Jeff Simmons, breach a topic that has been forever taboo in Columbia County, a "living wage". Mr. Simmons seemed to have had a change of heart from his position in 2012, when he turned away "higher-skill, higher wage jobs" from the County's economic development mission statement.

A Little History

In 2012, after a nationwide search, the County's newly hired Economic Development Director, Jesse Quillen, arrived in Columbia County from Alabama/Mississippi. Mr. Quillen was an experienced Economic Development Director with the credentials to match.

Not familiar with Columbia County's infamous good ole' boys, he came to the County with high hopes and expectations.

After being on the job a short while, he was discovering the inner workings of Columbia County. Mr. Quillen's contract allowed him to leave without penalty if he was unhappy. Impressed by the friendliness of many of the folks that he had met, he stayed, determined to make a difference.

On March 2, 2012 Director Quillen was introduced to the Chamber of Commerce. See: Columbia County Economic Development: Will a million dollars worth of smiles make this marriage work? (This article includes links to Mr. Quillen's resume, prior economic development accomplishments, and more).

Economic Development Director Quillen shortly after being told that higher-paying jobs weren't on the County's agenda.

Five days later he met with the County's Economic Development Committee to propose his plan of action for Columbia County Economic Development. His plan included the proposition that the County should attract "higher-skill, higher-wage jobs".

The Committee and its chairman, long time member of the County 5, Ronald Williams, were having none of that: County Economic Development Committee deep sixes "higher-skill, higher-wage jobs" from its mission statement.

Since then, Columbia County economic development has languished, other than fast food, drive through business, and retail along the U.S. 90 – I-75 interchange. Because of the location, many believe that retail development was inevitable.

FPL's Jeff Simmons: Looking To Up the Ante

FPL's Jeff Simmons     (file)

Despite pleas from the public, Jeff Simmons was the first person on any Columbia County board or commission since 2012 to publicly advocate for a living wage.

During Wednesday's discussion about whether or not the EDAB would recommend a vetted project to the County 5, FPL's Jeff Simmons recommended that a point of consideration should be that "wages of a decent scale – a living wage" be paid by the company.

"You don't want to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer"

EDAB member Terry Dicks

Confidentiality was again a hot topic at the Advisory Board. There was a wide ranging discussion regarding confidentiality.

After all views were heard, the board took long time member and trucking magnate Terry Dicks' warning to heart, "You don't want to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer."

Chairman Murphy sent the proposed confidentiality resolution back to the drawing board for refinement.

Confusion: "Tip of the Spear"

Recently, Sheriff Mark Hunter introduced into Columbia County's lexicon the term "Tip of the Spear" as it relates to who is in charge.

During Wednesday's EDAB meeting, it was pointed out that exactly who the point man is for Columbia County economic development is confusing and vague.

Presently, involved in separate capacities and not always in communication or on the same page are Chairman Murphy, Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter, Assist. County Manager Scott Ward, the Chamber of Commerce Committee on Economic Development, the Economic Development Advisory Board, Lake City, and Florida Gateway College.

Chairman Murphy, as well as the EDAB, recognized the problem. Mr. Murphy said the problem will be addressed.

Economic Development Summit

Mr. Murphy's recent call for an Economic Development Summit, which is tentatively scheduled for the third week in April, may point toward some solutions.

Additionally, workforce development in Columbia County has been an issue for generations. A Workforce Development Summit was scheduled for September 2016. Columbia County's chronic and systemic personality issues got in the way and the 2016 summit never occurred.

Economic development without workforce development is a non starter, exemplified by the fact that businesses requiring higher skills and generating subsequently higher paying jobs are not relocating to or locating in Columbia County.

No agenda has been prepared for the summit. It is not clear who is preparing the agenda or who the participants are. The EDAB, a board composed of the County's business leaders has not been asked for input.


County 5 Chairman, Tim Murphy, is a welder by trade with decades of experience. He is a person who can build things and put them back together.

Mr. Murphy has determined to make it his mission to put Columbia County Economic Development on track and on the map.

There is a scrap yard of pieces behind him; a big job in front of him; and no instant elixir on the way. His skills will be tested.

Lead Graphic: taxedo

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