CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County’s goal of attracting major industry to the Shoal River Ranch area has the full support of the Triumph Gulf Coast board of directors.
The board on Wednesday issued final approval to a $1.5 million grant for the extension of water and sewer lines to the ranch area just east of Crestview. The ranch encompasses a total of more than 10,500 acres north and south of Interstate 10, with the parcels connected by a state-maintained overpass.
The grant is funded from settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill. The county could contribute almost $1.3 million worth of labor and equipment for the project, according to information in the county’s funding pre-application to Triumph.
“I’m ecstatic" about the grant being awarded, County Commission Chairman Graham Fountain said Thursday. "I’m just tickled to death.”
Fountain represents District 1, which includes Shoal River Ranch. He said the ranch property is one of Florida’s last few industrial mega-sites and is a top priority of state and local economic development officials.
The water and sewer line project could be finished by late 2019, according to the county’s timeline.
“The site improvements are expected to (land a major employer and) attract more than 500 high-wage net new jobs within five years of site work completion,” Triumph officials said Wednesday in a news release.
That expectation is one of several negotiated performance metrics that will be used to gauge success of the project, according to Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.
“These benchmarks essentially provide the marker for any claw-backs from the county should the job creation or capital investment thresholds fall short within the negotiated time frame,” Sparks said Thursday in an email to the Daily News. “'High wage' means higher than Okaloosa County’s current average wage of approximately $40,000 per year.”
He said the sheer expanse of Shoal River Ranch, coupled with amenities like CSX Rail and frontage on U.S. Highway 90 and Interstate 10, make the site extremely competitive for large economic development projects.
"We have had considerable interest in the property over the past three years, and the vast majority of that has been from companies that would have invested in excess of $25 million or more while creating hundreds of new jobs," Sparks said. “However, the absence of adjacent water and sewer infrastructure has been a timing and monetary risk factor in past discussions with various prospective tenants."
In late 2005, the lack of various types of infrastructure reportedly caused the Kia Motors Corp. to pass on developing a car plant at Shoal River Ranch. Kia later built the plant — its first in North America — in West Point, Georgia. The facility has more than 2,700 employees, according to information from Kia.
Now, "The Triumph funding support, coupled with the match from Okaloosa County, will allow those (ranch area water and sewer infrastructure) issues to be effectively resolved," Sparks said.
Shoal River Ranch is owned by the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation of Boise, Idaho. The County Commission approved an option agreement last December to buy up to 1,665 acres of the ranch for potential economic development.