AVON PARK - Presently, most of the area is surrounded by scattered homes, pastures, woodlands and a few mom-and-pop stores.
But a state grant offered by a non-profit organization that works to improve military base efficiency and the economy of surrounding areas has been awarded to the Avon Park Air Force Range.
The executive Office of Gov. Rick Scott announced Highlands County would get $40,000 of a $850,000 Defense Reinvestment Grant (DRG) for the Air Force range, awarded Jan. 24, where a portion of the 106,000-acre military base lies. That money is being distributed through the Highlands County Economic Development Commission (EDC) to be used to develop marketing strategies that would attract business to the vicinity of the range.
The grant program provides communities hosting military installations with resources to support advocacy and military community relations. They originate from the Florida Defense Alliance, an organization created within Enterprise Florida in 1998 to ensure that Florida, along with its military bases and its host communities, are improving base efficiencies in the United States.
The grants are designed to support the needs of an installation and work in conjunction with defense-dependent communities in developing strategies to help communities expand their non-defense economies. Grant use can include studies, presentations, analyses, plans, marketing, modeling and reasonable travel costs.
The idea, said Charles "Buck" MacLaughlin, range director of operations, would be to get the local community a way to support the military installation through creating business and labor opportunities. Along with the EDC, the base administration would develop marketing plans that will work to identify businesses and economic development strategies that are "compatible with the military mission of the Avon Park Air Force Range."
"What we want to do with this, is attract businesses to Highlands County that are military-friendly; we'd work together to develop parameters with a marketing plan that would attract those businesses," said MacLaughlin, as he sat in a conference room on the base. "The study would help to identify what kind of businesses those are."
Examples of the types of industry and businesses that would be suitable for a sensitive military zone, according to MacLaughlin, would primarily be warehouse storage facilities, warehouse processing centers and light industrial manufacturing that wouldn't create smoke or smog.
MacLaughlin is also currently working with EDC Executive Director Stephen Weeks to focus what business to target and which ones not to go after. For example, MacLaughlin said what wouldn't be compatible would be industry that would involve too much nighttime lighting, tall buildings, industry that causes loud noise and ones the emit electromagnetic frequency spectrum, range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and would cause radio bandwidth competition and sensitive radio transmissions.
"We want economic development that could move in but not interfere...or not be compatible with the base's mission," he said.
"As businesses come in, we don't want to possibly create problems."
Weeks said the base is an asset to the county both economically and environmentally. He said he hoped to attract businesses both "compatible" and not those that would be non-compatible, such as a dump or business with large, lighted lots. He said a testing center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, fuel farms or an upscale ammunition and supply company would work.
"Anything I can do to create jobs in Highlands County, that's what I'm here for and that's what I'm looking for," he said.
In addition to the DRG, other state Defense Grant Programs includes the Military Base protection fund intended to provide the state with the means to assist communities with military installations that could potentially be adversely affected by federal base realignment or closure actions.
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