by Bethany Blankley
Okaloosa County received $3.2 million to expand operations at the Shoal River Ranch industrial gigasite, a massive 10,000-acre site near Eglin and Hurlburt Field Air Forces bases.
The funds were made available through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund and will go toward expanding roads, rail lines, and utility infrastructure in an area located seven miles east of Crestview with access to Interstate 10, Highway 90, and the Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad.
The grant is expected to bring more than 11,000 jobs to the Okaloosa County region and more than double the number of manufacturing jobs in the area. It is expected to bring more than 4,000 new jobs in manufacturing to the region alone. The region is already known for low unemployment and high-level talent due to those working at the Air Force bases.
“Today’s grant will lay the foundation for a dramatic expansion of manufacturing in Okaloosa County,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Florida is committed to expanding our industrial base and investments like this, as well as our strong support for skilled trades and workforce education, will help us achieve this goal.”
“The Shoal River Ranch Giga Site is a critical infrastructure project and the award made today is a difference maker,” Mel Ponder, chairman of the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, said. “There is nothing else this size, with this much access to a major interstate, in the state of Florida.
The site is projected to make an economic impact of over $47.6 million after infrastructure improvements are made.
“Future tenants will have access to people trained and led by our education system, our college system, and our transitioning military who are technically trained. Opportunities at this site will create thousands of jobs in multiple sectors, another great win as we diversify our local economy,” Ponder said. “This opportunity will be transformational for our area.”
In 2019 when the county was looking into ways to develop the site, Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, said military retirees and those separating from the military are a big draw for companies moving to the area.
He told 850 Business Magazine that local area talent can be “a bigger consideration than location or incentives” to companies interested in economic development opportunities.
Of U.S. military retirees or separatees, “99 percent have security clearances,” he said. “That is worth its weight in gold to businesses operating in the Department of Defense world, in particular.”
“People tend to assume that economic development is all about providing incentives, and that businesses choose a location based on who is going to give them the most benefits,” Sparks added. But the best incentive is the human capital of the region, he said: “Incentives don’t make a bad location good and talent, given the state of the world, is driving the majority of location decisions.”
– – –