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Effort underway to make panhandle "Florida's Cyber Coast"

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The Silicon Valley is known for its technology, Hollywood for its movies and possibly one day, northwest Florida for its cybersecurity.

On Tuesday, stakeholders in the community will take the first big step in that effort when they come together to do a “SWOT analysis.” That is a study to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

“When we’re finished with it, this will be the kind of tool that we can then look at and take a real honest look at ourselves in Escambia County and figure out how to be the Escambia County we want to be in regard to this trade,” Commissioner Doug Underhill said.

The push comes from the high demand for cybersecurity workers. According to Cyberseek.org, there are 348,975 cybersecurity job openings in the nation and about 15,500 of those are located in Florida. Underhill believes that Escambia County can be the hub, but said the analysis needs to fairly highlight the strengths and weaknesses in the community.

“This isn't just a sales pitch,” Underhill said. “This isn’t just trying to put lipstick on a pig, we need to be very serious in Escambia County about generational poverty, about generational lack of education and generational crime.”

FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance has taken the lead on the initiative. They have been collecting information from cybersecurity stakeholders in the community. Those stake holders include the school district, local government, military, utility companies, the school district and area colleges, like University of West Florida.

“UWF really wants to make sure that we’re bringing together our assets,” said Eman El Sheikh, director of cybersecurity. “Both in terms of educational programs, the faculty expertise, the research, the facilities, how we can support these efforts moving forward.”

Tuesday’s analysis will highlight what resources Escambia County has now and what resources are needed to make the area the next cybersecurity center. Once the analysis is done, it can be used to create a “Cyber Strategic Plan” and take action. The goal is to make the area known as “Florida’s Cyber Coast,” a place where people want to go to get training or bring their business.

“We’re talking about great job potential, great recognition, great opportunity and we want to become the leaders in that field right here on our beautiful panhandle beaches,” Sheikh said.

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