Florida is investing $1.1 million in Walton County for infrastructure and economic growth to bring high-paying job opportunities to the Panhandle.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Economic Opportunity on Thursday announced a $500,000 distribution from the Job Growth Grant Fund for roadway, water and sewer infrastructure improvements at an upcoming business park outside DeFuniak Springs. The second, $625,000 portion comes from the Rural Infrastructure Fund to expand broadband access in the country.
Both grants are efforts to build and retain businesses in the Panhandle county.
“We know Walton County’s a good place to be, anyways,” DeSantis said.
The Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn is an industrial park officials hope will attract higher paying jobs to the area, like in modular home and aircraft manufacturing. The Governor projected the plan would support 1,000 jobs.
“The money’s great, but we think the impact is going to be far greater than the amount of investment that we’re putting in,” he added.
The half a million dollars is just part of the $74 million the Legislature approved for the Job Growth Grant Fund this year after lawmakers added $50 million to the remaining $24.4 million DEO can use to field public workforce and infrastructure requests. DeSantis requested the $50 million installment after last year vetoing $20 million set aside for the fund as part of the nixed $1 billion from the budget amid uncertainty about economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the broadband addition is part of a larger plan to blanket the entire county with high speed internet by the end of June 2022.
“I know the leaders here in Walton county recognize the importance of improving internet accessibility for businesses and employees and to be able to keep people here,” DeSantis said.
Businesses can’t create better jobs without access to fast internet, which keeps them up to speed on everyday tasks, added DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle.
“Beyond that, if you want to be able to work from home, learn from home, see your doctor from home or just catch up with friends and family, broadband is needed,” Eagle said.
Citing a Federal Communications Commission study, he noted that only 51% of Walton County households have broadband access.
The state is also leveraging Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private agency for business recruitment, to bring businesses to the state to expand beyond tourism and agriculture industries. In particular, the state has tried to advertise skilled labor Florida has been trying to promote through job training and funding.
Enterprise Florida President and CEO Jamal Sowell claimed businesses worldwide willingly want to move to Florida, a statement DeSantis backed.
“Quite frankly, the state recruits itself. People want to come here,” DeSantis said.