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In June, I attended the National Cyber Security Summit in Huntsville, Alabama. This annual event brings together experts in cyber training, education and workforce development aimed to protect our nation’s infrastructure from the ever-evolving cyber threat.

Earlier this year, the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security designated the University of West Florida as the National Center of Academic Excellence Regional Resource Center for the Southeast. In this role, we provide leadership to advance cyber defense education among colleges and universities in the Southeast.

By working with our regional and national partners, UWF has the tools in place to help our area take the resources we already have and use them to create what is called an economic cluster around cybersecurity.

The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security have designated the University of West Florida as the National Center of Academic Excellence Regional Resource Center for the Southeast. (University of West Florida/Special to The Pulse)

What is an economic cluster?

In 1998, professor Michael Porter developed the theory of economic clusters. These clusters represent geographic areas where people, education and economic factors create a network of businesses and institutions. California’s famed Silicon Valley serves as one of the best-known examples of an economic cluster.

Using cybersecurity as an economic cluster for our area provides many advantages. Nationally and regionally, the demand for cybersecurity workers stays high. A national information security advocacy group, ISACA, estimates that in 2019 there will be a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals. About 40,000 jobs for information security analysts go unfilled in the U.S. every year. In Florida, more than 15,000 cybersecurity positions go unfilled.

Experts say the need for cybersecurity professionals will continue to grow as more attempts are made to breach computer security for businesses and government agencies. The job search site, Indeed, estimates an entry level information security analyst may earn between $54,000 to $114,000 a year. With experience, those salaries rise significantly. For young people in our area, jobs like this can make a big difference in their futures. Not only do these jobs provide above average starting salaries, many consider these jobs to be recession-proof because of the constant threat to a company’s computer network.

Expanding cybersecurity education

UWF is expanding our Center for Cybersecurity to offer more courses, certifications and training for cybersecurity experts. We also continue to reach out to local schools to generate interest in students before they reach college.

Students gain hands-on experience in the UWF Cybersecurity battle lab. (University of West Florida/Special to The Pulse)

We work with local high school teams that participate in the CyberPatriot program. This national cyber education program was developed by the Air Force Association for middle and high school students. During the competition, student teams play the role of newly hired IT professionals who manage a small company’s IT network. The teams work to find and resolve cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

This summer, we offered the only two GenCyber camps in the state for local high school students and teachers with an interest in cybersecurity. The National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation provided a grant that funded these camps. In addition to sparking interest among high school students, the camps helped teachers improve their cybersecurity content and teaching methods.

Where do we go next?

Our region has the opportunity to become an economic cluster for cybersecurity. UWF actively works with our regional partners including AppRiver, the Department of Defense, AppRiver, General Dynamics IT, Hixardt, Metova, Navy Federal Credit Union and Northrop Grumman to build a plan to become Florida’s Cyber Coast. Achieving this goal will help diversify our economy, attract stable high-paying jobs and bring national recognition to Northwest Florida. By working together, I feel confident that we can make this happen, and I hope you’ll join us.

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