Meeting in Gulf County seemed like the perfect time to provide final approval to a grant agreement between Gulf District Schools and Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc.

The Triumph board, meeting at the Gulf/Franklin campus of Gulf Coast State College Monday, unanimously approved a $750,000 grant to the school district to establish a multi-faced unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program at the two high schools.

The $750,000 represents 53.5 percent of the total cost of the program’s implementation over the next five years with the school system matching that with $652,000.

The district’s contribution represents instructor salaries and benefits.

The Triumph portion will pay some salaries, stipends and dues as well as the cost of equipment, storage buildings, curriculum and supplies.

Under the terms of the grant agreement, in five years at least 200 students will obtain industry certification in small UAS safety, agricultural use of UAS or visual line of sight operation.

According to a press release from Triumph, “UAS is a high demand and growing industry sector that is well-matched to the needs of the local economy.”

And Warren Yeager, county assistant administrator, said officials at Skyborne Technology, a designer and manufacturer of manned and unmanned aviation systems which recently located and expanded into Gulf County, are excited about the school program and the workforce it will help create.

Yeager came to the podium after Triumph board chair Don Gaetz asked if the county was still in support of the grant application in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

“We think this is a great opportunity for our new Skyborne Technology and we’re excited about moving forward with this project,” Yeager said.

The Board of County Commissioners has already decided to step back from a grant application for funding for floating dry dock in the shipping channel.

The BOCC, Gulf County School Board and city of Port St. Joe are instead seeking $21 million over the next three years to mitigate projected loss of tax revenue.

The Gulf District Schools application was one of two formally awarded Monday, the other to Franklin District Schools for creation of a welding program and upgrades to computer education and summer programs.

“I think these are wonderful examples of bringing vocational programs to rural areas,” said Triumph board member Jason Shoaf. “And I think good jobs will follow.”


Triumph to date

Monday’s meeting marked 17 months into the 15-year term of Triumph Gulf Coast, legislatively charged with disbursing $1.5 billion to eight Northwest Florida counties impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill.

Triumph has agreed to fund 14 grant applications that span all eight counties and totaling more than $118 million, Gaetz detailed, citing a staff report.

Those funds have in turn leveraged private, state and federal dollars in the amount of $405 million, a 3.4 to 1 return.

“We are generating substantial private investment and dollars from other sources,” Gaetz said.

The seven infrastructure projects already funded will generate 3,380 direct and 5,056 indirect jobs in the region.

All the jobs are guaranteed as part of the grant funding contracts and pay higher than prevailing wages in Northwest Florida, according to a staff report.

The career and technical grant applications will result in 9,300 industry certifications in high demand sectors, Gaetz added.

Extrapolated out for the entire term of Triumph, Gaetz said the board was on track to create 42,000 direct and 69,000 indirect jobs in the region while leveraging Triumph’s $1.5 billion into more than $5.1 billion.

“We seem to have come out of the blocks pretty fast,” Gaetz said.