By Bryan Nelson
Orange County Commissioner, District 2
After a tough session in which the Florida Legislature battled the governor over the use of incentives, the two sides came together in a June special session to devise a new approach to economic development in our state.
The result was the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund,” a first-of-its-kind, $85 million pot of money that will be used to finance public-infrastructure projects and job-training programs.
The money can be spent on a broad range of public-works-type projects – such as roads, bridges, sewer pipes, reservoirs, electrical grids and telecommunications systems – that serve to promote economic recovery in a specific region, help to diversify our economy, or expand our footprint in certain high-paying industries like aerospace, marine sciences and manufacturing, among others. It can also be spent on grants supporting workforce training programs at our state colleges and technical centers that teach enrollees sustainable, transferrable skills.
What the money cannot be used for, however, are any projects that exclusively benefit a single company.
The very first project financed by the Florida Job Growth Fund will be repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee. Reinforcing the dike will help reduce the amount of polluted water that must be released through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River systems, which causes harmful coastal algae blooms that can suffocate marine life.
But many more projects will follow. On July 12th, Enterprise Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity announced that they have begun accepting new proposals for the growth fund. The two economic-development agencies will recommend the best proposals to Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the final decisions about which will get money.
This will be a community-driven process. Proposals can come from cities or counties, state colleges, local technical centers, Enterprise Florida, DEO or the Florida Department of Transportation.
This is a tremendous opportunity for Apopka and northwest Orange County. The growth fund could potentially be used, for instance, projects that help accelerate the restoration of Lake Apopka, which would make our region more attractive to employers and boost efforts to build an eco-tourism base.
If you have any ideas, I encourage you to contact me or any of your other local elected officials. Let’s not miss out!
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