May 9 -- Okaloosa Regional Airport administrators are making their final appeals to the business community for help to secure a $500,000 Small Community Air Service Grant.
The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is aimed to help small communities attract discount carriers such as Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue. The DOT will award 40 such grants this year.
"We've been told each state will be given two grantees, so we know we're in competition with Panama City, Tallahassee and St. Lucie County," said Jerry Sealy, Okaloosa County's airports director. "I think we have a very good chance."
Sealy and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County met with local companies Tuesday at the airport to further explain the grant and its required $75,000 local match.
Under federal rules, the match cannot be paid with public funds.
"The larger your cash match is, the better," said EDC President Larry Sassano. "That's what U.S. DOT looks at."
The EDC has collected $30,000 in non-binding pledges. It plans to accept contributions through Friday.
"They're coming in, but they're coming in slow," said Sassano. "We need the business community to help us meet this goal."
Legendary Inc. donated $5,000 Tuesday, said Ed Dunbar, project development manager with the company.
"We support the effort," he said. "We see ourselves as being in the hospitality industry ... and bringing people to the area."
The grant also won verbal support from Eglin Air Force Base.
"We fully support the county's efforts to expand air service, bigger planes, better service," said Bob Arnold, chairman of Eglin's Mission Enhancement Committee.
Sealy said Okaloosa Regional will also provide $200,000 in in-kind contributions, such as waiving leasing and landing fees for the carrier.
If the airport wins the grant, the money can be used to help a particular airline with start-up costs and advertising.
Sealy said the airport will take a strong look at several low-cost carriers, including Allegiance out of Las Vegas, Frontier out of Denver and the United connection at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
"We do know that the Northeast is a very viable location for our folks," he added.
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