Depending on point of view last week's meeting of the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. was a mixed bag.
For Gulf Coast State College, and its Gulf/Franklin Campus, it was a fruitful day with two projects that would be located in Gulf County moved ahead in the pipeline by the Triumph board.
As for the Board of County Commissioners, there was no discussion on the county's lobbying efforts to have the Triumph board immediately disburse this year's dollar pledge to each of the eight counties under Triumph.
The concept was brought to the table by staff during a special meeting of Triumph earlier this month, but not during last week's meeting.
The county wants to establish a grant/loan program for local small businesses to assist in mitigating losses incurred during the current pandemic.
“They have a lot of money in the bank and it is time for us to demand our money,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “We want to do something now, not later.”
The county is pledged roughly $3.4 million this year from the roughly $1.5 billion in Deepwater Horizon fine dollars the Triumph board is legislatively-charged with disbursing over the next 16-17 years.
Hammond acknowledged the county had benefited from project grants on the education side, to the public schools and GCSC.
However, beyond the money received after Hurricane Michael to offset property tax losses, which was not intended to come from the county's pledge of the pot, whether any other Gulf project had actually received the check.
“That Triumph money, that is our money and we want it,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel.
While there was frustration in the BOCC's meeting room there was some elation at GCSC and the Gulf County campus.
The Triumph board voted unanimously to move ahead with grant parameters, or a term sheet, on what the college is calling “a boot camp for exiting military” in unmanned aerial systems, i.e. drones.
The boot camp, a nearly $4 million project with the college and partners providing a $1.7 match to Triumph's $2.2 million grant, is focused at providing existing military veterans in the eight impacted counties the opportunity to earn as many as eight certifications in piloting unmanned aircraft.
In 16 weeks, an individual could receive all the certifications of “outside of line of sight flying,” said Frank Fuller, Triumph's education consultant.
The region, he added, could see a 12 percent growth in operations from companies such as FedEx and Amazon.
“They are clamoring for unmanned aerial systems,” Fuller said. “It reduces contact and reduces costs.”
GCSC President John Holdnak said the college had a unique position for such a program, geographically and with partnerships and building infrastructure.
“We look forward to working with a variety of private stakeholders to make Gulf County the epicenter for unmanned aerial systems,” Holdnak said.
That would continue under another project the Triumph board approved in concept, approving staff's recommendation that the project move forward.
The project would create, with HTTI subsidiary Skyborne Technology, Inc. as a partner, a regional technical center for disaster relief.
The project would, in very short strokes, employ the manned and unmanned systems being developed by Skyborne, with trained personnel, after a natural disaster.
Essentially, a deployed tethered “mothership” which is currently near completion at Skyborne's Wewahitchka facility, with drones attached can provide satellite phone and search capabilities after natural disasters.
Much of the technology Skyborne owns outright; the company, through its tethered airship and technology, is providing a $2.7 million match for the grant.
In addition, the goals of the project are to demonstrate the capabilities of the communications equipment; provide training to local and regional emergency operations centers; ensure the deployment of equipment and workforce at the direction of FEMA; promote research and develop agreements to use the systems and technology in support of security for large events, such as a concert.
The total project carries a price tag of $9.9 million; the college is seeking just over $5 million from Triumph.
“We feel very strongly about (the project),” Holdnak said. “Eighteen months ago we lived through the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.”
Holdnak added that the college worked well with two different EOCs in Bay and Gulf counties, “there were gaps/”
“This is an effort from our hearts and our brains to help the region.”