Contact: Susan Skelton
Pensacola, FL – Over the last month, Triumph Gulf Coast has honored four departing Board Members as their terms have come to an end and celebrated the inaugural four years of investments made in the eight counties most disproportionately affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The transformational legacy left by these board members was recognized at meetings in Panama City and Pensacola.
Senator Don Gaetz, of Seaside, served as Chair of Triumph Gulf Coast from 2018 – June 2022. As Senate President (2012-2014), he was a driving force in the creation of the Gulf Coast Economic Corridor Act in 2013 which created Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. Senator Gaetz has been a Panhandle business owner and civic leader for more than twenty-five years. He co-founded and operated a national health care company prior to serving coastal Northwest Florida in the state senate. He was Chair of the Okaloosa County School Board and Superintendent of Okaloosa County Schools as well as Chair of the Town Council of Seaside, Florida. Senator Gaetz was a member of the 2017 Constitutional Revision Commission of the State of Florida. Chair Gaetz was appointed to the Triumph Gulf Coast Board by the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
The Honorable Allan Bense, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (2004-2006), of Panama City, served as the original Chair of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. from its inception in 2015 until December 2017. He has held interest in many businesses including road building, mechanical contracting, health care, insurance, general contracting, golf course ownership and management, pavement marking farming and others. He served as Chair of the Board of the James Madison Institute and is past Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Florida State University, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Tax and Budget Reform Commission, the Florida Council on Military Base and Mission Support, the Bay Economic Development Alliance, and past Vice Chair of Enterprise Florida under former Governor Jeb Bush as Chair. He has served as a member of the boards of Gulf Coast Hospital, Gulf Power Company, and the Capital City Bank Group (CCBG: NASDAQ). Speaker Bense was appointed to the Triumph Gulf Coast Board by the President of the Florida Senate.
Mr. Ben Lee, of Lynn Haven, is the Market President for Hancock Whitney Bank overseeing the Bay County region. With almost two decades of experience, Mr. Lee provides an array of strategic banking and financial solutions complemented by a proven passion for helping the region’s businesses and nonprofits to succeed. His experience and record of service has earned him a reputation as one of Panama City’s top bankers. Previously, he served as Executive Director at the Office of State Attorney where he was responsible for the management of seven offices in six Florida counties. He directed governmental and legislative affairs and oversaw the offices’ multi-million dollar budgets. Mr. Lee is actively involved in many organizations in the community including the Bay County Chamber of Commerce, Covenant Hospice, Bay County Contractors’ Association, Haney Technical College Education Foundation, Holy Nativity Episcopal School, and the Bay County Half-Cent Sates Tax Oversight Committee. He is the past Chair of the Bay Economic Development Alliance. Mr. Lee was appointed to the Triumph Gulf Coast Board by the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives to complete the unexpired term of Mr. Robert Bonezzi of Destin.
Mr. Matt Terry, SRA, of Port St. Joe is the owner of Appraisal Group of North Florida which provides real estate appraisals and consulting along the Gulf Coast. He has over fifteen years of experience in the appraisal business. Mr. Terry previously served as Vice Chairman of the Port St. Joe Port Authority, Gulf County Planning Development Review Board, and Gulf County Economic Development Council. Matt also served as lay leader of First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe and on the Executive Board of Healthy Start of Bay, Franklin, and Gulf Counties. Mr. Terry was appointed by the President of the Florida Senate to complete the unexpired term of Mr. Jason Shoaf of Port St. Joe upon Mr. Shoaf’s election to the Florida House of Representatives.
The transformational legacy created by outgoing Board members has been exceptional. Since its first grant award of $10 million in 2018 to expand the Port of Panama City, Triumph Gulf Coast has awarded more than $350 million to 50 projects in all eight counties disproportionately affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
For every $1 awarded by Triumph, $19 in beneficial economic growth is created for Northwest Florida, resulting in more than $800 million in net new family income annually, an extraordinary return on investment.
Almost 30,000 national industry certifications will be earned by K-12, college, university, retiring military and military spouses in the occupational categories most needed today and tomorrow in Northwest Florida’s coastal economy.
More than 16,000 net new jobs will be created, with all incentivized jobs paying 115% or more of the average wage in the area.
Triumph grants have focused on job creation and workforce developments. Projects include funds to close the deal and win a significant expansion of ST Engineering’s MRO campus at Pensacola International Airport, four new, almost fully sold out, industrial parks in Santa Rosa County and a grant to co-locate Pensacola State College’s new CDL training facility at one of the new distribution parks in Milton.
The award-winning Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) Aviation Center of Excellence in Crestview, and the new, cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence CTE curriculum development and implementation project at the Okaloosa School District are supported by Triumph funds.
In Walton County, Sheriff Mike Adkinson has a vision to “build better people” which includes workforce training to prepare incarcerated persons to re-enter the community. In partnership with Emerald Coast Technical College and NWFSC they are using Triumph grant funds to expand their ability do just that. Triumph has invested in multiple projects in Bay County including property tax reduction support after Hurricane Michael, the City of Panama City’s Industrial Complex supporting Eastern Shipbuilding’s Coast Guard Cutter contract, and FSU-Panama City’s cyber and new technologies workforce training project. Most recently, Triumph Gulf Coast has partnered with FSU-PC to create the new charter school providing Tyndall AFB families with quality, value-added educational opportunities.
In rural Gulf and Franklin Counties, Triumph is funding Career Technical Education (CTE) workforce training programs with the school districts and Gulf Coast State College in welding, unmanned systems, agricultural sciences, and nursing, among others, in addition to providing approximately half the funding needed to dredge the Port at Port St. Joe and infrastructure upgrades at Franklin County’s Apalachicola Airport.
Triumph’s first CTE grant was with Wakulla School Board. The project’s success has resulted in three additional CTE grant projects, two of those in partnership with Lively Technical College, for 3rd-12th graders and adults to gain industry certifications in Digital Tools, HVAC, Unmanned Systems, A&P, IT, AI, Auto Repair and construction trades.
Despite natural disasters and world events the Triumph Board has not slowed down in making investments to meet their goal of increasing household income for residents of Northwest Florida.
While we offer a thankful good-bye to these Board Members, we look to the future with our current and new appointees. Current Triumph Gulf Coast Board Members are: David Bear – Chair; Collier Merrill – Vice Chair; Reynolds Henderson – Treasurer; Jay Trumbull, Sr.
Three additional new members will be appointed by the President of the Florida Senate (2) and the Speaker of the Florida House (1).