Grants Coming To Northwest Florida Military Communities
Naval Air Stations Pensacola and Whiting Field are getting a total of $600,000, from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida. The grants were announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday.
In all, $3.4 million are being awarded throughout Florida, and are designed to bolster military facilities, support economic diversification efforts for defense-dependent communities, and fund programs to improve military-community relationships.
“And we understand, that enriches our community to have active-duty folks stationed here; it also helps our local economies. And it helps a lot of folks in that regard as well,” said the governor in Milton.
The $300,000 for Santa Rosa County will be for easement purchases around Whiting Field for critical buffer zones.
“[Also] $90,000 to Okaloosa County to encourage economic diversification around Eglin Air Force Base, and to facilitate opportunities for entrepreneurs, contractors, and the non-defense STEM sector,” DeSantis said.
“NAS Whiting is the busiest naval aviation complex in the world,” said base commander, Capt. Paul Flores. “Sixty percent of all naval aviators come through Whiting Field. We train 100% of all Navy helicopter pilots — that’s Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps, as well as foreign pilots — 1,200 pilots a year, total.”
The grant program helps both the local economy, said Flores, along with protecting the perpetuity of Whiting Field’s mission.
“Our programs, and our relationship with the county has been the gold standard across the [Department of Defense],” Flores said. “I had heard about this relationship before I got here, and now that I’ve been in this seat for a while, I can honestly say it’s the best DOD/civilian relationship, bar none, in the nation.”
“The ‘gold standard’ are our best business practice; that’s what you hear when people talk about the community-military partnering initiative between NAS Whiting Field and Santa Rosa County,” said Dave Piech, who represents Distrct-4 on the Santa Rosa County Commission.
He says the grant shows the county’s commitment to the military, by helping counties and communities protect and enhance the Department of Defense’s missions in Florida.
“Dating back to 2007, these grants have served to safeguard Whiting Field; the Defense Infrastructure Grant Program has been a staple in protecting the critical mission,” Piech said. “Over the years this partnership has buffered nearly 6,000 acres and expended over $15 million in matching funds.”
In 2003, amid the prospects of another Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, Santa Rosa County used Defense Infrastructure Grant funds to purchase more than 100 acres of property adjacent to Whiting Field’s back gate. And the grant, says Erica Grancagnolo at the Santa Rosa Economic Development Office, also pulled double duty.
“Military and county leadership at that time recognized that defense infrastructure funds could not only be used to protect [against] encroachment to the military base – thereby protecting the mission,” said Grancagnolo. “But that these funds could also be used to kick-start something bigger. Something even more impactful to the military veterans and families in Santa Rosa County.”
And that “something,” she said, is funding.
“The $1.8 billion annual economic impact on Santa Rosa County, she said. “It’s easy to see that the military is vital to our community. And as an economic developer, our military veterans and spouses are our secret weapon for attracting high-wage jobs to the region.”
Other grants being handed out include $90,000 to the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, to create higher skilled jobs for those in the military community as they complete their tours of duty.