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A disaster in the unmaking

The rotunda of Port St. Joe’s First United Methodist Church abounded with smiles because a disaster was being healed.

At a Tuesday morning ceremony, Dana Gartzke, assistant secretary of the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, was the bearer of good news with his announcement that the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners will be the recipient of EDA disaster grant funds.

Officials at Tuesday's announcement included, from left, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, State Rep. Jason Shoaf, U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Dana Gartzke, Gulf County EDC Director Jim McKnight, Gulf Franklin Center Director Al McCambry, Skyborne Technology CEO Mike Lawson, and Gulf County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Sandy Quinn.

Gartzke told the crowd that Gulf County will receive $615,448 from the 2019 EDA appropriation for counties impacted by Hurricane Michael.

“It is our pleasure to award these funds to Gulf County to help address the devastation that occurred during Hurricane Michael,” he said. “Your county administration should be commended for identifying a need early on and navigating the in-depth application process.

Jim McKnight, director of the Gulf County Economic Development Council, said “we are ecstatic to receive the grant funds that will allow the county to pave Cessna Drive and provide other infrastructure along that road adjacent to the Costin Airport.

“There are a few existing businesses that will benefit immediately from the road project, but the primary beneficiary will be Skyborne Technology who has plans to build a $3.8 million facility at the end of Cessna Drive,” he said. “It is our hope and projection that similar businesses to Skyborne will locate on the new road.”

In his remarks, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn said “it is great to see Gulf County, an area so devastated by Hurricane Michael, receive these the disaster 2019 funds that Congress appropriated.

“It is our hope these funds will enhance their infrastructure and grow their economy. I am pleased the funds will benefit Skyborne Technology that is becoming a cornerstone for aerospace business growth in Gulf County,” he said. “That growth is timely and could foster a partnership with the MQ 9 Reaper (Drone) program coming to Tyndall Air Force Base.”

State Representative Jason Shoaf thanked the EDA for their grant award and pointed out” this is a good thing for my hometown, and I am truly appreciative. I look forward to working with all parties in their efforts to expand and to grow the type of jobs created by this project.”

Skyborne CEO Mike Lawson thanked both the EDA and the county staff. “Gulf County has gone out of their way to helpful to me, they leased me the facility in Wewahitchka, which is now many fabrication plants and have very helpful with the permitting of my planned hangar at the airport,” he said. “It is our plan to create 71 high-paying jobs in the next three years.

“We will fabricate airships at our facility in Wewahitchka and then attach drones and further assemble them at the hangar at the Costin Airport in Port St. Joe,” said Lawson, before exclaiming “Oh, by the way, if anyone knows any seamstresses we are hiring.”

Ben Chandler, the disaster resilience coordinator at the Apalachee Regional Planning Council said he has enjoyed working on the project as a go-between with the EDA and Gulf County.

“Kaci Rhodes and Jim McKnight of Gulf County, and Greg Vaday, the regional EDA chief have been great to work with and it feels good to see that work pay off,” he said. “It’s been eight months since I have been in Gulf County and I am amazed at the level of recovery that has occurred during this post Michael and current COVID era.”

McKnight spoke of the beneficial history of EDA support for county development.

“The sky is shining bright today, and it is a momentous day in Gulf County,” he said, thanking Gartzke for the grant award.

He went on to point out that the Skyborne Technology fabrication facility is located the Gulf County Industrial Development building in Wewahitchka, a building constructed 25 years ago with EDA funds.

“As with the funds awarded then, Mr. Secretary, be assured that Gulf County will make good use of the grant funds awarded this day,” said McKnight.

Gulf County Board of County Commissioner Chairman Sandy Quinn emceed the program, and, in his closing remarks, thanked the EDA for the grant award that will create jobs and grow the economy.

“I appreciate Congressman Neal Dunn and Representative Jason Shoaf attending the ceremony today and thank them for their everyday representation of Gulf County,” Quinn said.