Walton County moves forward with a plan to purchase property along U.S. Highway 331 to be used for an industrial park.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County will move forward with a plan to build an industrial park along U.S. Highway 331.

During a Tuesday meeting, commissioners allocated $2.3 million of county funds to be used by the Walton County Economic Development Alliance to purchase more than 250 acres about three miles south of Interstate 10.

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With the contribution, about $7 million is now available to develop the area. This includes a $1.7 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast and a $3 million grant from the RESTORE Act, which will fund water and sewer infrastructure.

“The idea (is to create) some types of jobs that are just going to be so unique to Walton County that we haven’t been focusing on before,” said EDA Director Bill Imfeld.

Imfeld expects future career opportunities to focus on fields including artificial intelligence, information technology and drone programming.

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Included in Triumph’s grant is a contingency agreement that could force the county to reimburse the roughly $2 million. Under that contingency, the property must be used for an “industrial commercial park” and must create at least 100 jobs within five years, Imfeld said.

While all the commissioners were in favor of bringing more jobs to the area, some worried about the contingency stipulation.

They ultimately decided to move forward, hopeful that the development would mimic the success of the Mossy Head Industrial Park.

“I envision the same thing along 331 if we purchase the property,” Commissioner Bill Chapman said during the meeting. “In my opinion, we need the property.”

According to Imfeld, the county will claim more than 80% of every parcel sold. The remaining amount will go to the EDA.

Looking ahead, he expected construction to begin next spring and for the property to be “shovel-ready” within a year.

“Now that we’ve got the money to buy the property and make the closing, I can get (interested businesses) to go to contract,” Imfeld said.