Five years ago, the concept of opening a technology incubator in Bay County was just a dream. Today, TechFarms attracts startups from all over the US and as far away as Germany. However, we are still missing one of the biggest pieces of the economic development puzzle – the workforce. Without a skilled workforce, it’s extremely difficult to attract and retain tech companies to the Panhandle.
TechFarms’ mission since Day 1 has been to help grow Northwest Florida’s private sector tech ecosystem that will create more high-paying jobs and help diversify our military and tourism-based economy. In the past 10 years we have all seen how the lack of economic diversification has negatively impacted us. First it was the 2010 BP oil spill that impacted tourism, and more recently it was the near total destruction of Tyndall Air Force base by Hurricane Michael, the latter severely disrupting nearly one-third of Bay County’s economy.
Continuing to hope that tech companies will chose to relocate to our region cannot solve Northwest Florida’s tech workforce shortage. It’s a classic Catch 22 situation – we need the workforce to help attract them. In parallel to recruiting larger firms, we must look to our own communities and reach out to our students who will be tomorrow’s workforce. We need to continually expose our students to STEM in hopes that some will be excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and will want to pursue careers in these fields. To this end, what better way to ignite interest in STEM than a fieldtrip to TechFarms?
Recently, TechFarms had a wonderful opportunity to give students of A. Crawford Mosley High School a tour of its facility. Jennifer Hall, a teacher in the Career & Technology Business Department, wanted to put together a field trip that would benefit her second-year entrepreneurship students. Hall’s desire to bring her students to TechFarms grew because she wanted to have an opportunity to show her students “entrepreneurship in action”. She explained that the innovation and creative aspects of entrepreneurship aren’t easy to show in her fairly new program and she wanted to encourage her students by showing them real entrepreneurs creating new products and services.
Starting off the fieldtrip, the students were greeted by the CEO of TechFarms, Steve Millaway. Millaway spoke with the students about his background, what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, and what led to the creation of TechFarms. Next, the students were given a tour and were introduced to Jeff Elkins, AKA – TechFarms’ Mad Scientist. Elkins gave the students a presentation of his latest inventions – the Hydroflight F4 (a wireless remote control for Flyboarding), Thruster Boots (underwater electric propulsion boots for divers and snorkelers), waterproof LED light suits (currently used in SeaWorld acts), and the AirBoard (a personal flying machine that is a top 5 finalist in Boeing’s GoFly Prize competition).
Inspired by Elkins motivational closing remarks, the students then went back to the conference room to discuss what they learned during their visit. Hall remarked, “We learned that we have highly technical and innovative entrepreneurial creations, designs, and projects happening HERE – in Bay County! You don’t have to move away to a big city to follow your dreams. I would love to visit TechFarms the first month of every school year as it would set the tone for an amazing, creative and wonder-filled year! Having students see what we will talk about will be a great experience. Many of my students are hands-on learners so seeing the innovation, creation, and imagination used at TechFarms will help them to envision themselves as entrepreneurs and an innovators!”.
Teachers … if you and your class are interested in touring our facility and seeing entrepreneurs and innovators in action, we would love to accommodate you. To schedule a visit, please give us a call at (850) 233-0058 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.