A small city on the Florida Panhandle is attracting veteran entrepreneurs through an economic development initiative offering $25,000 grants to veteran-owned businesses willing to set up operations in Fort Walton Beach.
The city offered grants to seven companies this year, along with an invitation to an entrepreneurial bootcamp, access to collaborative workspace in Fort Walton Beach for one year and exposure to potential investors, reported Stars and Stripes.
Mayor Mike Anderson persuaded the city council to set aside $500,000 for the program with the aim of encouraging service members stationed at nearby Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field to stay in the area after they leave the military.
“We have so many military who are retiring and separating here and going off because they don’t think there’s opportunity,” Anderson said.
Several companies from the initial round of grants have decided to stay.
Jon Taylor, founder and CEO of Mr. Quick Pick, has decided to keep his company in Fort Walton Beach after temporarily relocating from Louisville, Ky., to participate in the accelerator program. “We don’t want to just be working here; we want to be part of this community and give back to this community,” Taylor said.
The veterans initiative helped Fort Walton Beach achieve a top 10 ranking on the list of the best places for veterans to start a business or new career after separating from the military. The survey, sponsored by USAA and Hiring Our Heroes, looked at more than 30 criteria across categories such as entrepreneurship, education and career.
“I think [the initiative] will have a tremendous impact,” Anderson told Stars and Stripes. “We found out several years ago with the [BP Deep Water Horizon] oil spill, when we lose our tourism population, we rely mainly on the military to sustain us, so we’ve been looking at ways to diversify our economy.”