Four months after creation, an $85 million state fund for economic development lies dormant, while more than 160 requests totaling over a half-billion dollars await.
The “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund" was created during a special legislative session as a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House leaders. At issue was the House’s desire to scrap Enterprise Florida and other economic development programs.
“This new fund is the first of its kind, and was created specifically to address infrastructure and workforce training needs,” said Scott in a promotional video. “Two major factors that businesses consider when choosing an ideal location.”
The fund cannot be used for projects which provide exclusive benefits to single businesses.
For House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the issue is accountability and oversight, which he says already exist with the Governor and Legislature.
“[Scott’s] elected, the Legislature’s elected, we go in every single year,” said Corcoran. “All those things can be looked at, but they’re broad-based benefits to the entire state. And we do that with other projects; members do it.”
The proposals , ranging from $24,000 to $25 million, must be forwarded to the Governor for approval. So far that has not happened.
“I would love to see the speed of government happen faster,” says Santa Rosa County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson. The county has two proposals on the table – one is for $15.2 million to cover expansion of Whiting Aviation Park’s recruitment of aerospace firms.
“It would be unique in the country, having a [sic] industrial park with a shared airspace with a naval installation [NAS Whiting Field],” Williamson said. “This would be something that would definitely set us apart to really help us go after some companies that bring high-paying jobs, well above the median average here.”
The other seeks $21 million for the East Milton water reclamation facility. The upgrade is needed, says Williamson, because of the growth in the three local industrial parks.
“Which is a good problem to have – companies that want to invest in our county, that they see the value in coming here,” said Williamson. “Unfortunately, we’re starting to push up against the limit of our capacity, and that would take us in the other direction. It would have growth slowing.”
Completion of that project would also bring more protection for the Blackwater River.
Another proposal is for about $16 million to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant in Freeport.
The requests are divided into public infrastructure and workforce grants. Eighty-one infrastructure totaling $1.1 billion, and 80 workforce at $121 million. Those numbers could go up, as corrected paperwork comes in.