Photo: Illustration by Jon M. Fletcher
Northwest Florida Roundup
High impact: $300 million from BP to diversify the northwest Florida's economy
A panel in charge of dispensing $300 million from BP focuses on diversifying the area's economy.
The eight northwest Florida coastal counties hardest hit by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will ride into the New Year on a $300-million wave — the first of 17 annual installments paid by oil company BP to compensate the state for economic losses caused by the April 2010 spill.
Triumph Gulf Coast, a nonprofit trust fund established by the Legislature, will decide how to spend the money, which will total some $1.5 billion and is to be used for creating jobs and diversifying the Panhandle’s economy. Triumph is governed by a five member panel headed by former House Speaker Allan Bense, a Republican from Panama City.
“If we do it right, we can end up with three or four very large employers in northwest Florida that are real game-changers,” says Bense. “But we have to all be on the same page and protect these dollars.”
During the panel’s inaugural meeting in Destin earlier this year, Bense cautioned members that the Legislature can repeal the Oil Spill Recovery Act if it determines the funds are not being used wisely. The act that created Triumph Gulf Coast specifies that 75% of any fine money the state collects goes to Triumph.
Sen. Don Gaetz, who authored the oil spill legislation, says the best defense in protecting the Triumph dollars will be success. “Failure and dithering away the money for boat docks and baseball fields will probably make sure the funds will be diverted somewhere else,” says Gaetz.
The Niceville Republican and former Senate president says the long-term goal of the Triumph panel is to fundamentally diversify northwest Florida’s economy, which now depends heavily on military spending and tourism.
“Triumph Gulf Coast is a long-term play to structurally change the economy of northwest Florida so this region can have more control over its destiny,” says Gaetz. “And no group has ever had so much power to affect in a positive way the economy of northwest Florida through sound, long-term business investments.”
Founded in 2003 by Ian McKinnon and Tim Dortch, Pensacola-based Reliability Solutions works with manufacturers to reduce maintenance costs, improve safety and reduce energy consumption. The company focuses on preventing critical machinery from failing. It also assesses the reliability of key spare parts. The company also has expertise in thermal imaging, especially in the detection of stressed electrical systems that overheat before they fail.
Xia Liu is the new CFO and vice president of Pensacola-based Gulf Power. Liu previously served as senior vice president of finance and treasurer for Atlanta-based Southern Co.
FORT WALTON BEACH — Fort Walton Machining, a manufacturer of custom-designed, precision machine parts, is expanding its headquarters in Fort Walton Beach. Executives say the $1.5-million expansion is expected to create up to 30 jobs.
PENSACOLA — Pensacola International Airport has been awarded $1.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation. The funds will be applied toward the cost of building a $38-million commercial aircraft maintenance facility for Singapore-based VT Aerospace.
TALLAHASSEE — Tallahassee International Airport has received $750,000 from the U.S. Xia Liu Ian McKinnon (left) cofounded Reliability Solutions. Business Briefs Department of Transportation. City officials say the money may go to subsidize air service by United Airlines from Tallahassee to its hub in Houston. The city experienced another record year of tourism during its fiscal 2015 season. Visit Tallahassee, the city’s lead tourism marketing agency, reports a 13% increase in bed-tax collections for 2015; a 2.6% uptick in hotel occupancy and growth of 9. 8% in total hotel revenue.
TAYLOR COUNTY — Texasbased Applied Gaia plans to build a $60-million plant in Taylor County that is expected to employ 300 workers. Applied Gaia, through its subsidiary Perry Natural Technologies, says the facility, when completed, will be one of the country’s largest wasteto- energy plants. The agreement includes the sale to Applied Gaia of a 55-acre parcel owned by the city of Perry.
VALPARISO — Construction is under way on the 850 Elite Volleyball Academy and Girl Power Station. The 22,000-sq.-ft. facility will feature three indoor volleyball courts, a retail shop and a wellness center, along with outdoor sand courts for beach volleyball competitions. The facility is being built by the non-profit Pride Foundation, say local developers David and Terri Fedonczak.