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Governor signs bill to increase rural funding

Special to The Star

Last week, Gov.r Ron DeSantis signed a series of bills into law that were passed during the 2020 Legislative Session.

Among those bills was one that our rural counties have been working towards for a number of years. Senate Bill (SB) 486, Economic Development, modifies parts of the Regional Rural Development Grants Program to increase the maximum award amount to regional rural development organizations located in Rural Areas of Opportunity (RAO), such as Opportunity Florida, from $150,000 to $250,000. It also decreases the required percentage of match from 100 percent to 25 percent.

Opportunity Florida uses the funding for a number of activities, including financing scholarships to economic development related educational events and for technical assistance activities provided to members. The increase in funding will allow additional activities and assistance throughout its northwest Florida coverage area.

Antonio Jefferson, Opportunity Florida Immediate Past Chair, has been working on this legislation since its beginning.

“A lot of people worked really hard for a number of years to make this happen,” said Antonio Jefferson, “We received the support of many private and public entities that stood with us in Tallahassee. The Governor’s signature ensures additional resources for Florida’s Rural Areas of Opportunity that will help these rural counties move forward in a positive way.

“I really appreciate the support of our legislative delegation and Governor DeSantis.”

Ted Everett, Opportunity Florida Chair, was in full support of this new law. “We are grateful to Governor DeSantis for signing Senate Bill 426 into law. We are also indebted to the many others throughout the state who have been working to pass this bill. Legislators both in and out of our rural regions have been helpful as well as a number of local individuals. This is truly a group effort that will go a long way to help bring rural regions to economic prosperity throughout the state of Florida.”

One such individual, who worked tirelessly to help pass this bill is Jackson County Commissioner Clint Pate.

“We applaud the Governor’s signing of Senate Bill 426. His action will allow for more technical and marketing support from our designated RAO organizations that serve 30 rural counties and their citizens in our wonderful state,” commented Pate, Jackson County Board of County Commissioners Chairman.

Opportunity Florida is a regional rural development organization that serves the ten counties that make up the Northwest Florida Rural Area of Opportunity (RAO). The counties include Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla, North Walton and Washington. Its primary focus is to assist its counties’ economic development organizations and it works to bring new jobs to the area in order to improve the economic prosperity of businesses and residents in the RAO.