Campus Life

UWF OEDE awards grant to help Fort Walton Beach manufacturer relocate, expand

The University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement has awarded a $210,000 grant to SunCoast Converters Inc. to help the automotive parts and service company relocate to a larger facility in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

The grant marks the end of the Industry Recruitment, Retention and Expansion Grant Program, which was launched in 2011 as part of Florida’s Oil Spill Recovery Act. The program was established to assist communities in eight counties disproportionally affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The state contracted with OEDE to manage the program.

SunCoast Converters sells rebuilt and remanufactured automotive transmissions, as well as transmission rebuild kits and torque converters. The grant will help the company, which previously operated out of a 17,000-square-foot facility in Fort Walton Beach, cover the costs of moving to a larger, 68,000-square-foot building in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park.

The new facility will enable SunCoast to expand its product offerings to include billet shafts, clutches and other products. Company officials estimate the grant will lead to $550,000 in capital expenditures and allow SunCoast to create six new jobs and retain 28 others. Officials expect the new positions to pay $49,617 annually, excluding benefits. The grant program requires that SunCoast meet these targets to receive funding.

SunCoast officials considered moving the company to Dallas before ultimately deciding to stay in Fort Walton Beach, said Joe Penn, the company’s director and vice president.

“The IRREF grant allowed us to offset the costs of renovating warehouse space, expanding our machine shop and creating new manufacturing capabilities in the business-friendly environment in Florida,” Penn said. “We are pleased that the (Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County) and the community are committed to nurturing the manufacturing industry, and are delighted that our ongoing success is bringing more high-value jobs to Fort Walton Beach. We are proud to be a part of the economic growth for the area.”

Keeping companies like SunCoast in Northwest Florida is vital to economic growth in the region, said Florida Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“Their desire to remain in our area and expand their company is one of the main reasons why I sponsored the Oil Spill Recovery Act in 2011,” Gaetz said. “Not only do we need to bring new companies to our area, we must also ensure current companies are developing and succeeding as well.”

The SunCoast expansion represents “the results of matching the right organizations with the right resources in the right environment,” said Fort Walton Beach Mayor Mike Anderson.

“An award like this provides further incentive for a growing company to choose to expand here over more traditional regional tech hubs, resulting in the creation of multiple local jobs and the occupancy of a long-vacant building,” Anderson said. “We applaud the efforts of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and the UWF Office of Economic Development and Engagement, and we look forward to seeing SunCoast Converters reach a new level of success here in the city of Fort Walton Beach.”

Nathan Boyles, chairman of the Okaloosa County Commission, said the county is committed to economic development.

“This expansion is precisely the type of economic development we want to attract to our community,” Boyles said. “We greatly appreciate the efforts of Sen. Gaetz in securing the recruitment, retention and expansion grant for UWF’s Office of Economic Development.

“We appreciate the efforts of UWF and our EDC in the support of private enterprise as we pursue the creation and retention of high-wage jobs,” Boyles continued. “We are ecstatic that SunCoast Converters will fill a vacancy in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park, and we believe this is only the beginning of a surge of high-wage manufacturing sector jobs for our community.”

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the EDC of Okaloosa County, said any decision that results in new jobs in the county should be celebrated.

“Such announcements are especially significant when the company in question helps further our objectives of economic diversification and the growth of high value manufacturing jobs,” Sparks said. “We sincerely appreciate the confidence SunCoast Converters has placed in our community and are delighted to see them begin their next chapter in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park.”