The board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. will return to the Gulf/Franklin campus of Gulf Coast State College for its next meeting in early March.
During that March 3 meeting there is a chance something of local interest will be on the agenda.
Though an agenda has not been published, GCSC submitted last Friday an application seeking more than $2.1 million in Triumph funding to create an “Unmanned Aerial Systems Pilot Boot Camp for Exiting Military.”
The boot camp is a 9-12 week program designed to assist veterans exiting the military in Northwest Florida counties from Santa Rosa to Wakulla and will be offered at the college’s Panama City and Port St. Joe campuses.
Students successfully completing the program would earn eight different industry certifications, including ground school, simulation training and flight training, in the operation of unmanned aerial systems, i.e. drones.
Students become certified drone pilots upon successful completion of the boot camp.
The college hopes to have the program up and running sometime this year and the program will be administered in a hybrid training process, including online coursework, face-to-face instruction and hands-on work with drones.
The goal is 800 industry certifications in unmanned aerial systems in the first three years of the boot camp program.
The college will continue the program beyond those three years based on need in the region.
And the program is designed with what are called multiple “exit points” allowing students to earn the certifications they seek to secure employment.
The application projects that those students who complete the boot camp and earn all eight certifications will have a 90 percent placement rate; in other words will find a job.
“This is great news for Gulf County as it provides a trained workforce in an emerging industry that aligns with other county initiatives that include Skyborne Technology, the Unmanned Safety Institute at the Gulf/Franklin Center and the college’s Unmanned Vehicle Program,” said Jim McKnight, Executive Director of the county Economic Development Coalition. “The need for this workforce is supported by a George Washington University study that forecasts the need for more than 19,000 drone pilots will be needed in the Panhandle during the next decade.”
In the program application, it is noted that forecasts indicate that companies such as Amazon, Google, Textron, Boeing and Verizon will be hiring up to 100,000 pilots of remote aerial systems nationwide by 2025.
Salaries start around $55,000 a year and increase to as much as $130,000 with experience; the national average salary for experienced remote pilots is $83,000.
In addition, as McKnight noted, the boot camp for exiting military will serve as a “wrap-around” program for the drone training courses arriving this school year at the county’s public high schools.
The boot camp is designed to offer a path for students successfully completing those programs.
“Although the program’s initial focus will be transitioning military, it will also be available to our local students completing the high school drone program,” McKnight said.
“It is truly exciting that our high school students will be able to complete three certifications while in high school, complete the boot camp and become licensed drone pilots with a starting salary of $55,000 a year.”
The college’s application also suggests that the boot camp will offer a workforce pipeline in the unmanned aerial systems sector that could lure additional companies to the area and establishing facilities and creating additional jobs.
The application also characterized the program as potentially “transformational” in a region the college serves and which the state considers economically distressed, adding high-paying jobs that will assist in rebuilding communities devastated by Hurricane Michael.
The Gulf County Board of Commissioners recently submitted a letter of support for the application.
Triumph Gulf Coast was established by the Florida Legislature to disburse some $1.5 billion in fine monies from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the eight Northwest Florida counties most impacted by the spill.