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Northwest Florida communities awarded hundreds of thousands in state defense grants

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

TALLAHASSEE — Communities across Northwest Florida have been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in the latest outlay of more than $2 million in state  defense-related grants.

The two state grant initiatives — the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program and the Defense Infrastructure Grant Program — "provide funding to defense-dependent communities to support economic diversification efforts and military community relations," according to a recent announcement from Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

More specifically, the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program provides support to community-based activities that protect existing military installations.

More:Bay Defense Alliance advocates for military bases, personnel

A major local recipient of the grant dollars is the Bay Defense Alliance, which was awarded $90,000 to continue rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Michael, which all but leveled Tyndall Air Force Base when it came ashore in October 2018. According to the announcement, the grant will "assist Tyndall Air Force Base with community support and partnerships as the base implements new aircraft programs."

More:Gaetz-hosted online defense forum focuses on test range, economic development

The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County also is among the recipients of the larger grants. The EDC has been awarded $85,000 "to continue efforts and strategies to encourage economic diversification through support and partnerships for the community surrounding Eglin Air Force Base through a tri-county community partnership ... ."

More:Gaetz has vision for technology park outside Eglin AFB gate

The grant also will be used to help "facilitate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) cluster development opportunities for entrepreneurs, defense contractors and non-defense STEM sectors," the announcement said.

The award comes as Eglin is looking toward possible federal funding of a research facility, dubbed the Weapons Technology Integration Capability, which is in line for the 2022 federal procurement process. As a means of leveraging that potential large outlay of federal dollars, military and community officials have begun talking about establishing a "Futures Park" just outside Eglin's main gate. Broadly, the talked-about facility would include space for higher education, military contracting and entrepreneurship.

Elsewhere in the area, the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce has been awarded $80,000 "to expand and create higher-skilled jobs and work with those in the military community as they transition to non-defense jobs," and to "continue to support the communities of Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field." 

In this 2016 photo, a trio of T-6B aircraft bank above Naval Air Station Whiting Field. Located near Milton, NAS Whiting Field is the initial training location for most of the foxed-wing aircraft pilots in the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

Also receiving Defense Reinvestment Grant dollars is Santa Rosa County, awarded $62,500 to "support military community activities surrounding Naval Air Station Whiting Field," according to the announcement.

Whiting is the initial training location for all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard helicopter pilots, and for a majority of the three services' fixed-wing pilots. According to the grant announcement, the state dollars would go to "defense- and non-defense-related industries to continue pursuing corporations to ... result in job creation and local economic diversification in the Panhandle Region."

More:NAS Whiting Field celebrates 75 years

The Walton County Chamber of Commerce was awarded a grant of $5,000 to support entrepreneurial growth and veteran support initiatives in the county.

Other recipients of Defense Reinvestment Grant Program dollars include the city of Jacksonville, the Clay County Economic Development Corporation, the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the Orlando Economic Partnership and the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance.

Also awarded recently were dollars issued through the state's Defense Infrastructure Grant Program, which "supports local infrastructure projects deemed to have an impact on the military value of installations within the state," according to the announcement.

More:Navy chooses new training helicopters for NAS Whiting Field

Projects eligible for funding include initiatives related to encroachment of military and community activities upon each other, as well as "transportation, ... access to military installations, utilities, communications, housing, environment and security."

Locally, Defense Infrastructure Grant Program funds were awarded to Escambia County and to Santa Rosa County, with both grants earmarked for purchases of easements around Whiting. An easement is a property interest that allows the holder to have a right of way or other use of property they don't otherwise own.

Santa Rosa County was awarded $282,500 to continue easement purchases around Whiting. Escambia County will receive $200,000 to continue easement purchases around Whiting, and for a traffic signal upgrade and the acquisition of a new public information notification system.

Whiting is headquartered near Milton in Santa Rosa County, but operates a number of outlying fields in the surrounding area. 

Also awarded Defense Infrastructure Grant Program funds were Brevard County, the cities of Jacksonville and Tampa, and the Miami-Dade Beacon Council.