Campus Life

UWF creates Office of Economic Development and Engagement

By Kelly Russ, University Communications

The University of West Florida will play a more significant role in economic development and job growth in Northwest Florida and across the state with the creation of the Office of Economic Development and Engagement, which was announced Wednesday, Jan. 19 by President Judith A. Bense at a press conference.

The OEDE will be led by Dr. Rick Harper, who previously served as executive director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development. Harper has more than 30 years experience as an economist, both in the United States and Europe.

“I believe this is a unique opportunity for UWF to create new revenue streams and take the lead in the economic recovery of the Northwest Florida region, while providing critical information and new outreach to the entire state,” Bense said.

The new office will serve as an umbrella to the already established Haas Center and the Florida Small Business Development Center Network (FSBDCN) and will enable more of a focus on research, patents, intellectual property, business incubators, grants, community engagement and partnerships both locally and across the state of Florida.

“By joining these two unique entities, the Hass Center and FSBDCN, we as a university can make a more exclusive and significant contribution to our state’s economy,” Bense said. The Haas Center specializes in data analysis to aid in economic forecasting, market research, business expansion, tourism and real estate development. The FSBDCN delivers counseling, training and information through certified professionals at 35 statewide centers to help small businesses succeed.

“The Office of Economic Development and Engagement will provide a unique way to marry the skills of both the Haas Center and the FSBDCN,” Harper said. “The Haas Center will still provide data analysis, but now, through the partnership with the FSBDCN, that information will make its way into the hands of small businesses through the statewide centers, where it has the most impact.”

One of the first projects of this new office will be to forecast economic activity for each individual county specific to the entrepreneurs in that region. Quality information like this is critical for hard-working families and small businesses as they determine where they’ll make their next sale, where to locate or what kinds of education and training resources they’ll need for their businesses.

For more information about the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement, visit or contact Dr. Rick Harper at