“UWF is honored to manage this program and the distribution of State of Florida economic development funds to companies that are investing in the region’s continuing financial growth,” said Dr. Matthew Schwartz, assistant vice president of research administration. “The IRDF program highlights the University’s continuing role in the region’s economic development and recovery from both natural disasters and financial hardships tied to the COVID pandemic.”
In the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the State Legislature established the $30 million program, formerly named the Industry Recruitment, Retention & Expansion Fund Grant Program. Approximately $10 million in funding remains for the program, which focuses on research and development, commercialization of research, economic diversification and job creation. Eligible industries include green technology, life sciences, information technology, aviation and aerospace, homeland security, financial and professional services, defense and manufacturing.
UWF Research Administration and Engagement is coordinating and overseeing the program by working with regional economic development offices. The eligible counties for funding include Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton. Businesses that commit to creating jobs in one or more of the eight counties are eligible for the funds. The project cap per award is $2 million. Other requirements for recipients include a commitment to capital investment, minimum creation of 10 new jobs and a return on investment of at least $1.50 for every dollar funded.
“There are definitely companies out there interested in pivoting and doing what they haven’t done before to create jobs, diversify the regional economy and make the regional economy more resilient,” said Dr. Donovan Chau, director of research engagement. “Sometimes when there is a crisis or some kind of tragedy, there’s an opportunity for growth, and more than ever what our regional community needs is funds for economic development.”
Previous funding helped companies expand or relocate to Northwest Florida. Those recipients included Navy Federal Credit Union for the creation of 9,144 jobs by 2030 and spurring over $700 million in new capital construction, ST Aerospace for 500 jobs and partial funding for a hangar facility at Pensacola International Airport, and International Paper for the addition of 436 jobs.