Double the graduates, double the nurses, while expanding opportunities, is the focus of a grant recently received by Gulf Coast State College.

During its recent meeting in Bay County, the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. approved a request for $2.2 million, earmarked for an expansion of the nursing program at the Gulf/Franklin Campus.

The board approved moving into the term sheet phase negotiations to hammer out a grant agreement.

“We are very excited,” said Al McCambry, director of the Gulf/Franklin Campus. “It will be a tremendous opportunity to train people in nursing and send them out into our communities.”

In practical terms, the grant would help the college double the size of the nursing program, with a goal of an additional 289 graduates of the program over six years.

“It is great economic news,” said Jim McKnight, executive director of Gulf County’s Economic Development Coalition and president of the GCSC board. “It has more impact and opportunities for the people of Gulf County. It is incredible news.”

The expansion would be accomplished by the creation of a Nursing Simulation Center using the newest and most effective simulation equipment, technology and trained faculty, according to the application.

The central mission of the simulation center would be to provide clinical training onsite; the barrier to expanding the nursing program at Gulf/Franklin was a shortage of clinical sites for training, according to the application.

“We have simulation already, but this is state-of-the-art,” McKnight said.

Now, the clinical work will be accomplished in significant measure in the simulation center.

The result should be increased enrollment, completion and job placement in the programs for certified nursing assistant (CNA), practical nursing (PN), and LPN to AND Bridge (Registered Nurse).

“It creates a career ladder,” McKnight said. “And it also timely. The American Nursing Association says 500,000 nurses will retire in the next few years. “This will be timely in replacing that generation of nurses.”

The total grant award was $2,200,358.

“Health care is a growing industry but they can’t find nurses,” McCambry said. “We are going to be one of the partners that will be addressing that. It really is a tremendous opportunity.”

In other actions during their recent meeting, the Triumph board voted to begin term sheet negotiations on a $440,000 grant to Florida’s Great Northwest to begin a research and marketing project targeted at diversification, enhancement and recovery of the disproportionally impacted counties in the Triumph area.

The total project will cost over $900,000.

The project will focus on three main areas: looking at return on investment for career and technical education programs, supply and demand examination for industry certifications and marketing and promotion of workforce and training programs.

The labor data will provide information for the region to better align resources and support targeted industry clusters with the workforce needed to remain competitive.

The data can also be used by educators, parents and students to make informed decisions about career opportunities.

One of the most important issues to businesses as they consider location to expand operations is the current workforce and the training pipeline, according to a Triumph press release.

Along similar lines of thinking, the Triumph board approved committing up to $1.4 million in funding for skilled labor certifications and recruitment of students to fill the work needs in the area in 2020.

In a press release, Triumph outlined that the lack of skilled construction workers has slowed recovery in areas impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The grant money will allow up to 220 new construction workers per year to be trained in high-demand skills at the region’s technical schools, such as Haney in Bay County, for up to three years.

If the program proves a success, funding will continue beyond 2020 to 2022.

Triumph Gulf Coast was legislatively-established and charged with disbursing $1.5 billion over 15 years to Northwest Florida counties impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

To date, Triumph has voted to proceed with 29 projects totaling over $240 million.