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Osceola and ICAMR passed over for $70 million federal grant

Osceola County and its new high-tech research park were passed over in December for a $70 million federal grant, but could be eligible if Congress and the Trump administration approve funding for a second round of grant awards this year.

The county and International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR) were a finalist for the grant program administered by the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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But Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced that the first American Manufacturing grant would instead go to a biomedical research consortium headed by the University of Delaware.

Osceola County had offered 50 acres of prime real estate in its research park as a match for the grant, which would have been paid over a five-year period. Perkins+Will is currently master planning the 500-acre research park, which is anchored by the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center opening in March.

ICAMR and FAMRC will unveil a new name on Tuesday that marries the research park, sensor center and ICAMR brands.

ICAMR CEO Chester Kennedy said agency officials learned during the NIST process that having the word "international" in the title created confusion about where the grant dollars would be spent.

"Having 'international' as the first word was a problem," he told GrowthSpotter on Friday. "We got that question three times from the NIST piece. I don't think it cost us the award, but it sent a clear message that we shouldn't even have to answer that question."

The county is negotiating with Century HealthRealty and Skanska USA to build the first 100,000-square-foot office building adjacent to the the sensor center. But local officials had hoped the NIST grant would help jump-start private development in the research park.

NIST Spokeswoman Jennifer Huergo told GrowthSpotter that Osceola could still land the coveted award.

"This competition left room for more than one award," she said. "The ambition existed from the start to make multiple awards. They thought they would be doing two, but only one was made."

The UD-led NIIMBL (National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals) grant came out of FY2016 funds. Huergo said there also was funding earmarked in FY2017, which Osceola County is still eligible for. There would be no need to reapply, but the program is in now in limbo.

"We don't know what's happening with the program," Huergo said. "We're under a continuing resolution, and there's a new administration coming in. So we have to wait to see how it all plays out."

Kennedy said he's still optimistic about Osceola's chances of landing the grant even though he doesn't know who he's competing with. "We do know some others got a letter saying they were no longer under consideration," he said.

One advantage of the ICAMR/Osceola proposal is that it's the only application from the smart sensor/semiconductor industry.

"It's still a competition, there's no guarantees," he said. "But it does give me a certain level of confidence. We had people from Sen. Nelson's office here this week. They're still actively working to try to find the funding to make the second award."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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