FSU will get $98 million from the BP oil disaster fund to build an aerospace facility in the Florida Panhandle

BP drilling explosion in Gulf of Mexico
Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, photo by US Coast Guard.

By Ryan Dailey ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State University is in line to receive up to $98.5 million to construct aerospace and advanced manufacturing facilities in Panama City, under a contract approved Wednesday by the Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors.

In November, the board voted to negotiate terms and a contract for what’s known as the Institute for Strategic Partnerships, Innovation, Research, and Education (InSPIRE) project.

The plan, which supporters say could be a boon for North Florida’s economy, is slated to be located within or nearby the Northwest Florida Beaches Airport and the Venture Crossings technology park.

The seven-member board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a contract to fund the project through a grant award agreement of up to $98,453,615. The money is part of funds that came to the state through a settlement with BP oil company over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, with the funds intended to help Panhandle counties impacted by the oil spill.

The contract said that the InSPIRE facility would be designed to serve as FSU’s “applied research and workforce development arm” with a “mission of accelerating technology innovation, cultivating corporate investment, nurturing the growth of new industries, and fostering high-skill, high-wage employment opportunities” in the eight counties most affected by the BP oil spill. Those counties are Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, and Wakulla.

Stacey Patterson, vice president for research at FSU, told the Triumph Gulf Coast board that the project could have a significant economic impact for the region.

“We are creating a bold and impactful vision to leverage FSU’s current strengths with new investments to create an innovation ecosystem that’s aligned with regional needs, opportunities and strategies, particularly focused on this Northwest Florida region,” Patterson said during the board’s meeting in Franklin County Wednesday.

The facility also is intended to support an increase in the number of engineering graduates in Panama City and an expansion of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, activities in the area served by Triumph. The university also projects that $10 in economic activity will be generated for each $1 spent on the project.

The school will invest $65 million in the project over the next 10 years and “is committed to securing more than $230 million in contract and grant activity,” a press release issued by FSU in November said.

The project also has received backing from the leaders of several North Florida-based state colleges.

Edward Meadows, president of Pensacola State College, told the Triumph Gulf Coast board Wednesday that the leaders of Panhandle colleges signed an articulation agreement with FSU “that is directed toward our collaboration with this project.”

Meadows said that he and the presidents of Tallahassee Community College, Northwest Florida State College, Gulf Coast State College and Chipola College signed the agreement.

“We intend to be on the applied end of this research. So, the research that comes out of this grant hopefully will be the kind of research that will help economic development across the Panhandle, and certainly increase workforce opportunities for our citizens,” Meadows said.

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