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State officials announce $40M available in Job Growth Grant Fund

“We look forward to reviewing this year’s competitive projects.”

The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday that $40 million is available through the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund to go toward projects focused on workforce development and infrastructure projects.

“The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund will help Florida communities ensure they are resilient, prepared for all economic possibilities and have the opportunity to achieve their economic goals,” DeSantis said.

That fund was created in 2017 to help divert funds to regional projects focused on beefing up economic growth.

“We know the importance infrastructure projects and workforce training has on economic development,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

The proposals are reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI). Officials from those agencies then submit project recommendations to the Governor.

“Gov. DeSantis’ commitment to enhancing Florida’s infrastructure and workforce training is creating a brighter future for all Floridians,” said DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson.

“The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund will allow our agencies to continue making smart strategic investments in Florida communities to improve lives and support sustainable economic growth.”

The creation of the fund in 2017 was actually a compromise between then-Gov. Rick Scott and a Republican Legislature which had sought to eliminate Enterprise Florida altogether.

Those efforts were revived again this past Session before a compromise was reached.

The $40 million is part of the state’s $90.98 billion budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year that took effect Monday.

DeSantis did not persuade lawmakers to put $85 million into the fund, an amount that Scott, now a U.S. senator, received for the program in each of his final two years as governor.

The fund was created after a legislative battle about incentives, including a failed request by Scott in 2016 to provide $250 million in economic-development money that could go directly to businesses.

Former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is now the state education commissioner, repeatedly called such incentives “corporate welfare.”

Some Democrats, meanwhile, initially criticized the Job Growth Grant Fund as a “slush fund” that lacked oversight.

During the 2019 legislative session, budget leaders, before agreeing to the $40 million, expressed some concerns about the wide discretion the governor had in using the money for regional projects.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, noted early in the session that his primary concern was that the “legislators are appropriators, not the executive.”

In one of his final acts as governor, Scott effectively tapped the remaining dollars from the fund for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which ended Sunday.

Projects included $5 million to the town of Callahan to provide water and wastewater service to an 1,841-acre industrial site; $4.7 million for Lakeland to develop two hangar facilities at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport; and $2.3 million for Bradford County to build an access road through the Keystone Heights Airport.

Over the two years, Scott used the fund to assist 56 projects across the state.

In the past fiscal year, more than 100 proposals, seeking a combined $620 million in funding, were submitted to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

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