Harper: Triumph Gulf Coast Holds First Meeting

Aug 14, 2015

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses Triumph Gulf Coast Inc., which will be holding its inaugural meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort at 9300 Emerald Coast Parkway West in Destin.

“It’s a big event,” Harper said in reference to the first gathering of Triumph Gulf Coast. The nonprofit corporation was created to oversee 75 percent of all funds recovered by the Florida attorney general for economic damages to the state as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Certainly the central gulf coast all the way from Texas to the tip of Florida has waited for the day when it was appropriate to start thinking about the next phase now that the global settlement offer by BP is out there.”

In fact, Harper notes that over 500 municipal entities have submitted a response to the BP settlement offer, which he expects to be finalized in time for the first funds to begin flowing in January 2016.

When the funds are released, Triumph Gulf Coast must establish, hold, invest and administer a trust account at a federally insured institution for the economic recovery, diversification and enhancement of the eight Northwest Florida counties disproportionately affected by the spill. Those counties include Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.

To demonstrate the importance of the money for economic damages the state of Florida, Harper points the state’s dependence on tourism spending.

“When we fail to sell boogie boards and bathing suits, because the tourists aren’t coming, not only do the businesses themselves lose,” said Harper. “But, also, we still have to fund education and there’re fewer dollars going into the state treasury, because there’s no sales tax because those boogie boards and bathing suits never got sold.”

State Sen. Don Gaetz will speak at Tuesday’s meeting about the legislative intent of Triumph Gulf Coast, which was created by the Florida Legislature when the Republican from Niceville was President of the Senate.

Dr. Rick Harper
Credit University of West Florida

The board appointments were completed on Dec. 20, 2013. The members are: Stan Connally Jr., president and CEO of Gulf Power Company, appointed by Gov. Scott; Allan Bense, Panama City businessman and former speaker of the Florida House, appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz; Pam Dana, senior strategic advisor for Human & Machine Cognition, appointed by Attorney General Bondi; Okaloosa County resident Stephen Riggs IV, partner at Carr, Riggs & Ingram, appointed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater; and Destin resident Bob Bonezzi, co-founder of Bonezzi Development Company, appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. 

According to state statute, their terms don’t become effective until the legislature appropriates the funds from the BP settlement.

However, Harper explains that it’s important for the panel to go ahead and begin their work, even if they can only conduct unofficial business at this point.

“It’s important to start it now, because we need to stay ahead of the curve with respect to the policies, procedures, processes for spending these dollars for economic losses that will be entrusted to Triumph,” he said.

The University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement is facilitating this inaugural meeting of Triumph Gulf Coast. The role of UWF’s OEDE moving forward is yet to be determined. But, as the only public university that has its home campus within the eight counties to benefit from the funds, Harper believes UWF will be eligible to apply for funds to do innovative things.

“I anticipate that various parts of the university, programmatic initiatives will come forward,” harper said. “And, hopefully, the university will be able to participate in a substantive way to help improve the earning power and the quality of life across northwest Florida.”

Dr. Rick Harper is Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Opportunity at the University of West Florida and serves as director of the university’s new Center for Research and Economic Opportunity. Also, Harper is a Senior Research Fellow at the Studer Community Institute, a Pensacola-based organization that seeks citizen-powered solutions to challenges the community faces. rharper@uwf.edu.