‘It’s a win, win, win’

BONIFAY – Students with the Heavy Equipment certification program at Florida Panhandle Technical College (FPTC) are literally clearing the way for economic growth and expansion at the re-purposed Bonifay Middle School campus on Telfair Street.

The former campus has rapidly become the epicenter of Bonifay’s growing businesses, having added about ten new tenants since catching the eye of Pennsylvania-based Probes Unlimited in 2021 as the ideal location to expand its operations to Northwest Florida.

Joe Rone, Executive Director of Holmes County Development Commission (HCDC), said with interest in relocating to the site at an all-time high, it simply made sense to prepare the land adjacent to the campus – about 14 acres near the site of what is locally known as the “old Bonifay header company” – for future industry. What made even more sense, said Rone, was partnering with FPTC to get the work done.

“It’s a win, win, win,” he said. “Not only are we saving thousands of dollars in labor and equipment costs, the students get experience under the instructor’s supervision, and the community will have more opportunities to attract economic prospects.”

Banian Josey, heavy equipment instructor with FPTC, says the hands-on experience is invaluable for his students.

“To be able to gain experience and operate this equipment in a real-world application better trains operators in developing land,” said Josey. “It is a real bonus to have the knowledge that they are a part of something bigger, that they are helping the community grow.”

The experience also gives students the opportunity to apply other skills learned in the program, such as routine and preventative maintenance, as well as basic mechanics.

Keir Milton is new to the program, but he says he already feels a sense of unity with others involved in the project. “It makes me feel good, to know that we are contributing to the community,” said Milton. “I’m proud to be part of this program and this project.”

FPTC Director Larry Moore says that sense of contribution will help encourage the students toward continued success.

“To me, that is just a real positive part of what they’re doing,” said Moore. “They are not only getting real life work in a live setting, they’re helping an agency like the Holmes County Development Commission. It’s just a great experience for these students.”

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, a time when CTE programs like these are celebrated for strengthening the nation’s workforce by training the next generation of skilled workers. However, Rone says the community should keep in mind those contributions year-round – and not count them out when planning for the future.

With that in mind, Rone created a recruiting opportunity of sorts to connect students with potential employers. Representatives from a variety of construction fields across the Panhandle have stopped by the site to meet with the students and watch them work.

“This partnership is a living, breathing illustration of how educating skilled workers can bolster the potential for economic growth,” said Rone.