The Apalachicola Board of City Commissioners heard and unanimously approved a plan presented at their March 8, meeting, by Dr. Dreamal Worthen, Vonda Richardson and Sandra Thompson with the FAMU Cooperative Extension Program to create and sustain local jobs.
The FAMU group presented a detailed version of the plan first brought before the commission at the February meeting by Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson.
The plan calls for the FAMU Cooperative Extension Program to help the local leadership throughout Franklin County develop, manage and sustain an Incubator/Accelerator Program at the Old Apalachicola Fire Station.
The program would address the steady decline of living wage employment in Franklin County, brought on by the closure of the Port St. Joe Paper Mill and the declining seafood industry. Both of which have reduced the opportunities for native Franklin County residents to find a single living wage job. Most at present have to work multiple low wage jobs just to make ends meet. As a result, there’s an ongoing outmigration of Franklin County’s young population and young families in search of living wage employment in other communities.
The plan also calls for FAMU Cooperative Extension Program to write and submit on behalf of the city a $250,000, 1890 Capacity Building Grant. If awarded, the grant would fund for two-years the salary of a local Project Coordinator, a local Program Assistant and the necessary consultant expertise to operate the Incubator.
The Old Fire Station, strategically located fronts one of the main paths of pedestrian traffic for visitors walking in downtown Apalachicola. The abandon station would be used by the project to provide capacity for business start-up and expansion, a workshop for the businesses to develop artisanal and hand crafted products, as well as a functional store front and a virtual store front for marketing new products created in the Incubator. Graduates from the program will be well equipped to sustain their businesses outside of the Incubator.
However, there were concerns raised by several current downtown business owners attending the meeting, which included issues with “past flooding inside the building”, “flood insurance going up for adjacent and other downtown businesses” and some audibly mumbled about potential “competition”.
Apalachicola with its historic ambience is a beneficiary of Florida’s $74 million annual Tourism Market. The FAMU Incubator/Accelerator proposal has the potential to not only emancipate those that participate in the program from the unemployment lines, and from a dependence on multiple low wage jobs. It can also provide an opportunity for sharing in the wealth of Florida’s abundant Tourism Industry, through independent business ownership.
The commission unanimously moved to support FAMU’s plan and committed to finding another suitable location should the issues of past flooring and insurance hikes cannot be resolved at the Old Fire Station.