DeSantis announces $2.8 million grant for NWFSC to train for $60K jobs in Okaloosa, Walton

Kevin Robinson
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that Northwest Florida State College will receive $2.8 million to launch a new transit technician program through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.

In a press conference on the college campus, DeSantis said the program will prepare students for jobs earning $60,000 or more annually repairing and maintaining commercial diesel vehicles.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces a $2.8 million grant for a new diesel mechanic training program at Northwest Florida State College during a press conference Thursday in Niceville.

"Nearly 70% of all freight shipped in the United States is carried by these vehicles, so there's a high demand not only for people to operate the vehicles but for people that can repair and maintain the vehicles," DeSantis said. "So here in Okaloosa County, we think there'll be close to a 20% increase in demand over the next five years, which is more than the national average because there's so much going on in the state of Florida."

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The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund is an economic development program designed to promote public infrastructure and workforce training across the state. Proposals are reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida Inc. and chosen by the governor to meet the demand for workforce or infrastructure needs in the community they are awarded to. 

nullDevin Stephenson, president of NWF State, thanked the governor, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Henry Mack, chancellor at the Florida Department of Education overseeing the Division of Career, Technical and Adult Education, for their roles in securing the funding.

"This job growth fund that the governor has created is phenomenal, and we would not be able to do this without that financial support," Stephenson said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (second from right) poses with Northwest Florida State College President Devin Stephenson and other members of the college's board of trustees after an announcement Thursday that the college will receive a $2.8 million grant for a new diesel mechanic training program.

Expounding on the details of the program, Stephenson added, "The transit tech program is really sort of like diesel technology on steroids. The Florida Department of Transportation united with us because the demand for repair and maintenance of large trucks, of buses, of all types of transportation, diesel engines for marine, that demand is unbelievable. And no one's really teaching anything (like this locally). The closest program is 150 miles away from here. So there's a significant demand, and these are high-wage jobs."

Stephenson estimated it would take six to eight months to "stand-up" the program, adding that the college should be ready to accept students by either summer or fall of next year.

Dane Eagle, secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, noted that career fields related to logistics and transportation were in high demand even before the COVID-pandemic.

"Now with the supply chain being disrupted, we need it more than ever," Eagle said. "We need it here in Northwest Florida, so that's incredible. It's gonna support 500 people going through the program, and that's not only gonna improve their lives and the lives of their families, but it's going to spread far and wide throughout the community and throughout the Southeast United States."

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces a $2.8 million grant for a new diesel mechanic training program at Northwest Florida State College during a press conference Thursday in Niceville. Standing behind DeSantis is Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle.

DeSantis dedicated a portion of the press conference to touting Florida's economic success, opining that his office has made the correct choice in eschewing policies such as shutdowns and vaccine mandates that have harmed workers and business owners in other parts of the country.

While many areas are still struggling to get their economies back to pre-COVID levels, in Florida "not only are we back, we're doing better in many respects," the governor said. 

"We want to make sure that everybody's jobs are protected, that people have opportunities here, and if a business wants to expand in Northwest Florida or any part of Florida, want to make sure that they have quality people that they can go to and hire, and this program here is certainly filling that latter goal."