Originally Published in the Panama City News Herald, April 14, 2017
“In 2013, the Florida Legislature created Triumph Gulf Coast, a nonprofit corporation, to administer funds as a result of the BP settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Wilson’s letter said. “Triumph funding was to be used for programs and projects that encourage economic recovery.”
Alleging that “current legislation prohibits these non-taxpayer dollars from being used for economic diversification or tourism marketing efforts,” Wilson claims in his letter lawmakers “will put Northwest Florida at a competitive disadvantage.”
“The Triumph funding was a path toward attracting large-scale, competitive projects,” the letter said. “But now economic development projects are off the table in this move by the Florida Legislature. Taking economic development strategies that work off the table is shortsighted.”
The letter cites research conducted by a state Chamber Foundation economist that indicates both the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitan statistical area and the Panama City-Lynn Haven metropolitan statistical area rank among the “least diversified economies in the entire state.”
Northwest Florida relies heavily on tourism and the military to drive their economies. Tourism dried up following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, at the same time deep military cuts were being made because of sequestration.
After the spill, then-state Senate President Don Gaetz introduced legislation calling for 75 percent of all BP legal settlement dollars to go to eight coastal Northwest Florida counties most directly affected by the oil spill.
Gaetz, who often said “when the military catches cold Northwest Florida gets the flu,” argued the severe downturn the region suffered following the spill pointed out the limitations of its two-tiered economy.
Triumph Gulf Coast was conceived by Gaetz as a nonprofit run by a five-member board of directors that would allocate BP dollars to economic projects that could help diversify the region.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran strongly opposes providing incentive money to convince businesses to locate or expand in an area. He refers to the practice as “corporate welfare.”
Corcoran has advocated doing away with Enterprise Florida, the state’s business recruitment agency, and severely cutting back funding to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm.
The Destin and Greater Fort Walton Beach Area chambers of commerce crafted a letter of their own about Triumph Gulf Coast. It largely echoes the Florida chamber’s position.