JACKSONVILLE - The Highway 79 Corridor Project was among economic growth initiatives awarded grants Tuesday from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.
Governor Rick Scott announced $35 million in awards for nine projects across the state, all of which are projected to enhance community infrastructure or develop workforce training programs while demonstrating a strong return on investment.
First proposed through the Washington County Economic Development Council in June 2015 - and believed to be the first of its kind in Florida - the 79 Corridor Project is an interlocal agreement between the City of Bonifay and both the Washington and Holmes County Board of County Commissioners to bring economic growth to the area.
Once complete, the project is expected to expand commercial opportunities outward from the established commercial corridor on U.S. 79 south from I-10 to Douglas Ferry Road.
The latest in grants awarded for the effort through the work of EDC leaders totals $1,821,461 and is earmarked to build water and sewer infrastructure within the corridor. This portion of the 1,525-acre commercial/industrial/mixed use development will replace the need for future wells and septic systems as a part of the development.
Because the funds have to be granted to a specific government entity, the Governor awarded it to Washington County Board of County Commissioners; however, the funds will be used within the parameters of the agreement between the three governments.
Combined with a $1 million grant received last year through efforts by Senator George Gainer and Representative Brad Drake, the latest funding brings total legislative appropriations to about $2.8 million - and proves true a predication made by EDC Executive Director Ted Everett.
“By working together, we significantly increase the opportunity to get money from grants,” said Everett in a March 2016 interview. “The total project cost is about $2.3 million, and I believe we can get half of that in grants.”
Richard Williams, Executive Director of Opportunity Florida, has been assisting on the project and agrees partnership is key.
"This successful application shows what can happen when two counties work together to improve the region…," said Williams. "Having elected officials and economic developers willing to work together is key for our rural area to create jobs and give our friends and families a chance to work and live in our region. Having this application among the first selected from over 225 from across the state is a huge victory for the Opportunity Florida region."
City of Bonifay officials and commissioners from both counties have also leant significant support to the project.
"By investing in needed infrastructure projects, we are making it easier for job creators to grow in our community and create new opportunities for our families," said Washington County Commission Chairman Tray Hawkins. "Washington County is proud to stand beside Governor Scott to celebrate the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund awards, and we are excited to see the completion of this project.”
EDC officials state several studies have been conducted that indicate bringing water and sewer to the corridor could mean about eight new businesses coming to Holmes and Washington counties and the City of Bonifay within three to five years of establishing the infrastructure.
Completed aspects of the 79 Corridor Project include the City of Bonifay agreeing to run grant-funded sewer and water lines south of I-10 and both counties implementing overlay maps to the existing Future Land Use Maps (FLUM) to better prepare for economic development.
By having possible commercial uses approved and outlined ahead of time, potential businesses can cut through the old method of first requesting for land use changes.
In coming months, the three governments will form an authority to manage future development over expansion along the corridor. The authority will be comprised of a commissioner from each county, a Bonifay City Council member, and one locally recognized business or civic leaders from each county.
The authority, which will have the same reporting responsibilities as other government entities, will finance the infrastructure largely though grants, and the City of Bonifay will benefit by collecting utility revenue generated from future businesses on the corridor.
On hand for the award ceremonies Tuesday were Holmes County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Danny Powell, Washington County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Tray Hawkins, Opportunity Florida Executive Director Richard Williams, EDC Executive Director Ted Everett, and EDC member Jim Town.
The 79 Corridor and other proposals awarded Monday were reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), Enterprise Florida (EFI) and chosen by Governor Scott based on their strong return on investment to the state and to meet the demand for a robust workforce or infrastructure needs.
Return on investment was calculated to determine the best projects for the state and economic development in the regions.
“I am proud that $35 million has been awarded through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund for important projects that will support continued economic development in our communities," said Florida Senate President Joe Negron said in a media release Tuesday. "These projects all have a direct impact on the families and job creators of the awarded communities and I thank Governor Scott for his leadership supporting the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.”
“The funds of the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund are all going to education and infrastructure investments," added Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. "These economic drivers provide long-term benefits to all Floridians. I look forward to seeing the success of these investments and appreciate Gov. Scott’s continued commitment to strengthening our economy."