Pensacola, Fla. – The Industry Resilience and Diversification Fund program, administered by the University of West Florida, has completed its first year of operations after being relaunched in 2021. The program, managed by UWF’s Office of Research Administration and Engagement, remains open to new applicants.
Over the past year, the University has approved IRDF incentive funding for projects cumulatively projected to add 685 new jobs and resulted in more than $91 million in capital investment in Northwest Florida.
“The UWF mission states that we will contribute to the needs of professions and society,” said Dr. Matthew Schwartz, associate vice president of research administration. “In partnership with our core educational and professional development goals, the IRDF program allows UWF to directly contribute to the economic development of Northwest Florida.”
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the University worked together at the direction of the State Legislature to establish the $30 million program, originally called the Industry Recruitment, Retention and Expansion Fund, in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Approximately $10 million in funding remained last year when the University reopened the program under its current name.
The program’s goal is to encourage the creation of sustainable, high-paying jobs in diverse industries across the eight Northwest Florida counties whose economies and communities were affected most heavily by the oil spill. Those counties are Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.
The IRDF program makes incentive awards of up to $2 million available to companies that relocate or expand in the eight counties disproportionately affected by the oil spill. The application process is competitive. Participating businesses must commit to creating at least 10 net, new jobs in one of the eight eligible counties and the proposed project must result in at least $1.50 in economic activity for every dollar of IRDF funding awarded. Additional requirements and considerations can be found on the IRDF website. Companies interested in participating in the program can apply through their local economic development office.
“The IRDF grant program is enhancing FloridaWest’s primary initiatives to attract and grow innovative companies,” said Danita Andrews, chief business development officer at FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance, the regional economic development organization located in Pensacola. “Partnering with UWF to deliver this grant opportunity to competitive projects is making a positive difference in these important relocation and expansion decisions and ultimately helping to strengthen and grow our local and regional economy.”
“The IRDF program gives communities a very valuable economic development tool that helps diversify local economies,” said Becca Hardin, president of the Bay Area Economic Alliance in Bay County. “Tourism will always be important to the Panhandle of Florida. The IRDF can be used to help recruit companies, such as advanced manufacturing, distribution and back office/white collar jobs, so that communities are not solely dependent on the tourism industry.
“Through the support of the University of West Florida’s IRDF program, we have seen transformational project announcements occurring in the region,” Hardin said.
“The IRDF has given Santa Rosa County the strategic and tactical advantages we’ve needed to bring high-value employers to the table, as well as the flexibility necessary to close the deals,” said Shannon Ogletree, director of the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office. “The result has been millions of dollars in new capital investment and hundreds of high-wage jobs for our people.”
The IRDF program will remain open to new applicants until all funds are awarded. For more information about the Industry Resilience and Diversification Fund, visit uwf.edu/irdf.