Wednesday’s meeting of the board of Triumph Gulf Coast had a distinctive Gulf County flavor.
As part of its agenda, the Triumph board was to discuss proposals and score sheets for two county projects, a floating dry dock to facilitate the expansion into the county of Eastern Shipbuilding and creation of a drone program in the public high schools.
And based on scores and agenda language, all is not floating for the dry dock proposal.
The agenda, which places the proposal among those under review, stated the project is presented for “contingent approval subject to specific conditions.”
Additionally, the project is given a “B” grade based on economic impact, the only one of the four projects under review not to receive an “A.”
The district school proposal for a drone program, along with projects in Apalachicola and Bay County, all received an “A.”
In addition, on the score sheets, the dry dock project was the only one of the four for which staff did not detail how it arrived at the grade.
The specific conditions to which the dry dock project could be held have been detailed in correspondence between Triumph and county staff.
According to the grant application, the county is seeking over $28 million for the dry dock, counting a $6 million state appropriation as a local match.
Rick Harper, an economic adviser to the Triumph board, wrote earlier this summer that while the board indicated an interest in the dry dock project certain issues would need to be addressed.
Among those issues: the project must be bid in a “competitive and transparent” process; assurance that Gulf County residents be considered for jobs resulting from the dry dock; and maintaining public ownership of the dry dock.
Harper also noted the high costs per job created which “are much more expensive than other projects (under consideration).”
Additionally, a significant issue is the likelihood the Triumph board would insist on insurance that the dry dock is not moved from Gulf County before promised job creation in the county is realized.
And, another potential major provision, Triumph would likely insist on a way to “claw back” grant funds in the event that pledged performance levels, i.e. local job creation, are not met.
Don’t hit the 240 long-term projected; the county could potentially be on the hook for millions of dollars.
Triumph staff as well as board member Don Gaetz, former State Senate President, was in Gulf County last week to discuss the project with county officials.
The county expressed agreement with a competitive and transparent bidding process for construction of the dry dock provided it was built in Gulf or Bay counties.
Additionally, the county would continue efforts to recruit and train a workforce.
However, as to job creation and “claw back” mechanisms, the county has contended the dry dock project is unique to other projects Triumph is considering.
Therefore, formulations were by nature conservative due to the fact that the dry dock will remain in public ownership.
The dry dock becomes a portable piece of infrastructure and the vessel serves as a 100 percent guarantee and secured collateral for the grant, the county has asserted.
As detailed last week, the school district seeks a $750,000 grant to help create a drone curriculum at each high school.
Staff, in scoring the project an “A”, noted that the grant proposal aligns with eligibility provisions linked to education and workforce development in disproportionally affected counties.
And, it meets Triumph priorities for creating high paying long-haul jobs and diversifying local economies.
The district would contribute roughly $652,000 during the life of the grant funding.
The district would hire a drone aviation technicians to train teachers and oversee the program, obtain drones and related equipment, purchase curriculum and certification exams.
According to a timeline, full implementation at both high schools within a year of receiving funding with the first graduates produced in three years.
Triumph Gulf Coast is the legislatively-created body established to disburse some $1 billion in BP fine dollars within eight Northwest Florida counties over the next 15 years.
The primary aim is to create the infrastructure, including workforce development, to facilitate economic growth in the region.