TAMPA, Fla. (WLFA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Winter Haven about the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, pledging additional funding from the Dept. of Economic Opportunity and the Dept. of Transportation to aid in expanding fiber optic infrastructure and road improvements.
The state is awarding almost $10 million to Winter Haven and Polk County, through a combination of funds from the Grant Fund and money from the DOT.
The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund is an economic development program, according to state publications. The fund is used to help communities design and promote public infrastructure and workforce training programs across the state, and reviews proposals by local governments or organizations to be awarded the grants.
According to the DEO, grants can go to training projects that “will provide Floridians with transferable, sustainable workforce skills applicable to more than a single employer, and for equipment associated with these programs.” This can include public infrastructure too, such as transportation and utilities needed for development.
The governor said close to 5,000 new jobs will be coming to Florida, and highlighted block grants and funding in Polk County for job growth and infrastructure, “We’ve made almost $60 million in investment in 2021 alone.” The jobs will be in “manufacturing, logistics, and technical services industries.”
Among business coming to Florida, DeSantis mentioned the Coca-Cola Company and jobs it would bring to the Sunshine State, while highlighting Florida’s unemployment rate remaining lower than the national average. DeSantis said the state has seen 16 months of continuous private sector job growth.
“We’ve added about a million private sector jobs since the peak of the job losses due to the reaction to the pandemic,” DeSantis said. “We are way ahead of the national average in tourism, hotel demand, travel spending and air travel capacity.”
He said Florida’s always been a place people want to go for both vacation and business, and that the job numbers reflect the migration to the state during the pandemic. Taking shots at inflation, DeSantis said it’s affecting all parts of the economy, including fuel costs.
Gas prices are also a concern DeSantis is focused on for the portion of the state’s workforce that commutes.
The governor was joined by Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle, Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault and Enterprise Florida Secretary of Commerce Jamal Sowell.
“Our commitment is to do good policy and to continue to support communities like here in Winter Haven and Polk County that really do have a lot going on and will have a lot going on in the future,” DeSantis said.
Before Eagle spoke at the event, DeSantis presented the checks, a total of $9.4 million. $6.4 million came from the Job Growth grant, while the remaining $3 million came from FDOT. The FDOT funds are intended to help with “road construction to improve access to over 1,200 acres of industrial land” according to the governor’s office.
“The governor’s job growth grant fund, one of the governor’s top priorities, he fought hard this past session with the legislature to grant $74 million, and we’re looking at good investments across the state,” Eagle said.
Eagle said the job growth fund is to help the state grow by investing in infrastructure and education. He said the goal is to look at Florida as a whole, and how to attract new businesses to the state while bringing in new ones as well for investment in local communities.
Thibault spoke next.
“What a way to start a week,” Thibault said. “So it’s amazing what you can do with bake sales and car washes, that’s how we got the $3 million,” he joked. “It’s great when Secretary Eagle called me about this project. We were very familiar with Intermodal Logistics Center.”
The DOT had participated with the Center previously, Thibault said. So it was “a no-brainer” for DOT to get involved again, according to Thibault.
Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Birdsong spoke next, thanking the governor and state leaders for the investment in the community.
“You know, you have already stated how important it is to us at the ILC,” Birdsong said. “When the ILC was built years ago, the vision was that it would create thousands of jobs. One of the things that prohibited that was the road, having better access. Now, we’re going to be able to fund that road, have high-speed internet going there, governor, you have made a dream come true for the City of Winter Haven.”
Birdsong said thousands of jobs would be created through the investment.
DeSantis took the podium again, and spoke about the types of jobs the grants will aid. Manufacturing, infrastructure and a good business climate were part of what DeSantis said made Florida attractive to businesses coming to the state.
Vocational training, skills-based development and high-quality education “made a better path for folks” looking for work opportunities “without having to go deep into debt.”
The governor mentioned HVAC, welding, aircraft maintenance and trucking, among others.
“You name it, and there is big demand across all of these different industries,” DeSantis said. “And you’re able to make a good living. So we’re going to continue doing that. And some of the money from the Job Growth Grant Fund we’re actually going to be announcing later this week, will go specifically to some of those opportunities where you’re trying to create ability for people to get those real good vocationals…”
He said the state was focusing on getting more programs for such training in high schools and “a big pipeline” in post-secondary education for it.
Florida provides a list of targeted industries for priority in Fund proposals. The list of industries includes manufacturing, finance and insurance, information technology, global logistics and trade, among others.
The governor promised to come back to Winter Haven soon, joking that people were “sometimes happy to see” him when he “brought money.” Then he took a few questions from those at the event.
Responding to a question about the latest COVID-19 numbers, DeSantis said that “the fact we were the first state in the country to put these early treatments on the front burner,” was one reason the state had been able to save thousands from being hospitalized.
Monoclonal antibody treatment remains a popular method for staving off the severity of COVID-19, in Florida and other states across the country.
Typical of the governor’s commentary on monoclonal antibody use, DeSantis again criticized the lack of information made available on the treatment earlier in the pandemic, saying that the state was able to fill that gap and that the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services should have been the ones to step in.
DeSantis said 130,000 Floridians have received the antibody treatment since the state-operated facilities opened.
Recently, demand for treatments such as Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail have risen so high that the federal government has had to ration how much would go to each state. DeSantis said that the treatment option was important, despite the push for vaccinations, due to breakthrough cases even among the vaccinated residents in the United States.
“Fortunately, we’re now bottom two, we’re 48th or 49th in COVID infection based on different estimates,” DeSantis said. He said President Joe Biden falsely claimed the vaccine stops infections, noting that breakthrough cases are still occurring, but lower infections has decreased demand for the monoclonal antibodies.
DeSantis said “You have to have a treatment option,” and referred to Pfizer’s CEO saying that therapeutics were also important.
Referring to the reduced allotment as the federal government began rationing mAb doses, saying that the rationing hurt Florida.
“We were able to, when Biden cut our allotment, coming into Florida put us in a very difficult situation, I was able to go out and get more supply from another manufacturer,” DeSantis said. “We actually have had some really good stories about the sotrovimab that’s been done.”
The governor said the additional supplies, and the drop in infectious cases, would hopefully make it easier to get the treatments to those who needed it.