This spring six Ukrainians came to northwest Florida for a week as part of an Open World professional exchange program focused on innovations and entrepreneurship, the purpose of which was to show the different ways innovations and entrepreneurial projects enrich communities in the United States.
To start their time, they met at the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce with Todd Thomson to receive an overview of Pensacola’s business climate and how the Chamber of Commerce is critical to the development of area businesses. A further discussion held with Kristen Loera at the Gulf Breeze Area Chamber explored the role of chamber committees. A site visit at Co:Lab to meet with Kelly Reeser illustrated partnerships between chambers and institutions of higher learning while a visit to the Waterfront Rescue Mission with Devin Simmons and Barry Banks highlighted social entrepreneurship and how the charity shop helps fund its program.
The visitors also met with Dawn McArdle, the district director for Congressman Matt Gaetz. She explained the role of the district office and highlighted how important it was for citizens to have access to their congressional representatives.
Leslie Packard of the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida (UWF) discussed how vital a statewide provider of business development services is. This was complimented by a tour of the UWF campus guided by Brian Wyer which ended at the UWF School of Science and Engineering for a discussion with Sam Russel on the Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology (BEST) robotics competition, showing just how important universities are for innovation. The Ukrainians also met with Dr. Robert Perkins and Dr. Timothy O’Keefe at the UWF College of Business to discuss the role of universities in developing future business leaders.
The group spent time at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology where they examined career development programs. Mark Curley at the National Flight Academy shared their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education program for students, and at the robotics lab of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) Dr. Sharon Heise answered their questions about IHMC research and opportunities.
As part of their visit, the group experienced different cultural and historical aspects of Pensacola. They volunteered at First United Methodist Church’s Serving the Hungry program with Katie Ramsey and attended the Pensacola Jazz Festival as well as a Bands on the Beach evening. They visited Historic Pensacola Village for a better understand of the region’s history, and they were delighted to receive honorary citizenship to the city. Pensacola City Council Executive Don Kraher highlighted area demographics and shared with them the structure of local government so they could have a better understanding of American society, and the Young Professionals of the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council spent time with the group, helping to round out the agenda.
Before they left, our visitors were part of a brainstorming session and program evaluation where they discussed ideas on how they might build durable and long distant relationships with their Pensacola counterparts.
None of this would have been possible without the generosity of our host families and we extend special appreciation to Kent and Leigh DeSantis, Bruce and Beth Hoffman, Jena Melançon, Stephen and Roxolana Slobodian, Julie Tippins Parker, and John Toole and Judith Brooks.