A board established in the wake of one disaster will once again attempt to lend a hand with another disaster.
The board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. last week instructed staff to begin work on a fast-track job training program for workers in construction industries.
The board, meeting by telephone, voted to earmark $1 million for a one-year training program, which would be crafted in collaboration with CareerSource Florida.
The focus is construction industry jobs in Northwest Florida to meet what is hoped will be a series of federal- and state-funded infrastructure projects.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced the state would be fast-tracking $2 billion in construction projects.
And President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have signaled that an infrastructure package is likely to be central in another round of stimulus spending as the economic impacts of coronavirus deepen.
The training program would initially focus on certifications in such areas as masonry/concrete, heavy equipment, surveying and commercial trucking, said Frank Fuller, education adviser to the Triumph board.
The concept, Fuller added, was to have workers training to be ready in response to federal and state spending on infrastructure to boost the economy.
Those with certifications would be quickly absorbed by the job market created by the infrastructure and construction projects, Fuller added.
“We could move to more complex training as demand warrants,” Fuller said.
“The initial program would be for one year with training completed within the first six months, similar to other programs.”
Triumph Gulf Coast was legislatively charged with distributing some $1.5 billion in fine dollars for economic development projects in the eight Northwest Florida counties most-impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The board took similar steps on job-training programs following Hurricane Michael, several of which have come to fruition in Gulf County.
The board met last week in response to the coronavirus pandemic and discuss what, if any, role Triumph could play in the region’s economic recovery.
“We are beginning to address the impacts of COVID on projects under contract and projects under consideration,” said Don Gaetz, Triumph board chair and former President of the Florida Senate.
The board examined several possible issues, including whether to provide relief on timelines and benchmarks for projects to which Triumph has already provided grant funding.
At staff recommendations, the board approved allowing no more than a six month time extension on any project with leave to revisit the project after six months.
Staff was directed to poll those spearheading the projects already funded to determine if any amendment to grant contracts was required.
At its next meeting April 30 the Triumph board will evaluate requests and decide whether to provide a blanket extension or extensions by project based on minor changes recommended by staff.
The Triumph board also discussed various options in lieu of the COVID pandemic and economic fallout.
In a recent letter to state lawmakers, Senate President Bill Galvano said there may be a need for a special session.
But, Galvano also expressed optimism that the state’s $2 billion reserve fund will help tide the state through the current fiscal year as well as the next.
“The state has been prudent and set aside sufficient funds to meet the costs of the current emergency,” Gaetz said. “There doesn’t seem to be any rush to come back to Tallahassee to make changes.
“Changes would come with any federal funds.”
Former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, also a member of the Triumph board, recalled the efforts of lawmakers to set aside burgeoning revenues in the middle of the prior decade; the state was better prepared for the Great Recession as a result.
“President Galvano’s memorandum made me more comfortable,” Bense said. “I’ve seen things go bad, but I have never seen things go bad so quickly.”
Triumph board member Lewis Bear was less sanguine about recovery and how far the state’s reserves will go.
“I have concerns about the economy over the next year, two years,” Bear said. “I think it’s going to be a tough recovery.”
Gaetz said the current economic environment is a “whopping change” from when Triumph first began its work and wondered if the board should workshop options available under the law that established Triumph given the current crises.
One idea briefly floated was to disburse this year the funds earmarked within the Triumph legislation to each county for each county’s discretion.
This year, each county is guaranteed $3.2 million, according to staff.
The board consensus was to maintain its focus on economic development and job creation while remaining vigilant of economic changes to the landscape.
“Be mindful, let’s watch what is going on, but let’s stay the course for right now,” Bense said.
Gaetz said the board should “keep all its tools” as the country deals with the pandemic.
“We’re in for times we’ve never seen before and we do not know how it will all come out,” he said.