Better education necessary to diversify Bay County economy

by July 8, 2008 • 1 comment

JuliannBy: Juliann Talkington

Juliann Talkington is the administrator of the Panama City Renaissance School. Reach her on 850-215-8712 or

With the state of the economy in Bay County, we are all searching for ways to improve conditions. People talk wistfully about the new airport and what it will do for the area. The champions speak about more tourists, more permanent residents and high-quality employment opportunities.

With rising gas prices and a nationwide recession, many people are starting to wonder how realistic these projections might be. Even though it would be nice to think Bay County is insulated from tough economic conditions elsewhere, it is probably unrealistic. Like other tourist-based economies, Bay County suffers when outsiders don’t have extra money to take vacations.

Recently, there have been discussions about other ways Bay County might diversify and stabilize its economy. In April, Florida’s Great Northwest, the economic development organization for the region, made a presentation about the economy. In addition to suggestions from an outside consultant, there was also feedback from business and political leaders. Both groups said changes to education were necessary if the area was to develop a diversified economy.

According to Education and the Economy: An Indicators Report prepared by the National Center for Education Statistics, productivity is the primary determinant of standard of living. Workers with higher educational attainment are more productive and as a result are unemployed less and earn more than workers with lower educational backgrounds.

According to the US Census Bureau, only about 18% of Bay County residents have a Bachelor’s degree. In Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, almost 42% of the population has a Bachelor’s degree. We are way behind. The lack of people with a university degree certainly limits the types of industries Bay County can attract and also limits the compensation level.

To make matters more challenging, Bill Gates, founder and former Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, says future jobs will require more and more technical expertise. Some people say it is a chicken and egg problem. Without good jobs, we can’t keep highly talented young people in the area. While this argument has some validity, there is also a concern that Bay County graduates do not have the skills to pursue technical degrees.

Recently I learned three Bay County advanced placement program graduates went to college to study science or engineering. All have changed or are considering changing majors, because they do not have the background to survive in the college-level science classes.

What a tragedy! We need people with technical skills to help stabilize the economy, but many intelligent young people do not have the skills to succeed in these fields. To solve the problem, we need more science and math majors to teach in Bay County Schools. To do this, we must make teaching more attractive by offering competitive salaries and a pleasant work environment.

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1 Comment


1 steve July 9, 2008 at 7:15 am

Get rid of entitlements . . . make people want to work.

Company President, double MBA, hard working American!