DESTIN — Northwest Florida has all the ingredients to reel in many major industries coming to the state if officials can continue to work together to recruit them, Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday.
During the second day of the Gulf Power Economic Symposium’s Northwest Florida Forward event, the governor said the state is adding 20,000 jobs each month, and he sees many of them coming here.
“The Panhandle — look at your opportunity,” Scott told the crowd of several hundred people at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. “There shouldn’t be a manufacturing job that goes to Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee or the Carolinas that doesn’t come here first.
“Our taxes are lower,” he said. “People like to live here. We’ve got a great education system. ... Look at the technology opportunities we have.”
Scott said Northwest Florida also will be receiving $1.5 billion in Triumph Gulf Coast oil spill funds to diversify the economy.
“The truth is this part of the state should really prosper,” he said. “But you’ve got to do things like this (conference). You have to figure out how to get together and make it happen, so thanks for what you are doing.”
The conference, in its second day, draws together business, economic and political leaders from across the region to tackle long-term economic issues, ranging from tourism to education and poverty.
Scott said in his final 462 days in office, he wants to continue to create jobs and cut taxes, saying he already has exceeded his goal of creating 700,000 new jobs in Florida after being elected. That number now stands at more than 1.4 million.
“We’ve cut taxes now 75 times,” he said. “We’ve cut 25 percent of the state tax,” helping the state pay off $8 million in debt in 6½ years.
Sounding a familiar tone, Scott urged a continued focus on job creation.
“It is the most important thing you can do for a family is get them a job,” he said. “My family struggled for work. I watched my parents struggle to put food on the table, and that’s a tough life. And with all the prosperity, we still have people that are struggling, so everything we can do to get more jobs we need to keep doing it.”
The governor also talked about hurricane response after his recent visit to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.
“The power is out,” he said. “Thirty percent of the people have their cellphone service down.”
Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in Florida in anticipation of an influx of Puerto Ricans. Disaster relief centers for those seeking refuge in Florida have been set up at Orlando International Airport and in Miami.
“We know we’re going to have quite a few Puerto Ricans that are going to come live here who have family here and friends here,” he said. “We’re making sure schools are ready, and I’m sure we’re going to need more volunteers again.”
Also speaking on the final day of the event was Zach Jenkins, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Development at the University of West Florida. He said job growth has been exceptional in Northwest Florida, and a lot more people have been moving in than out.
“We’re seeing 12,000 net new residents each year,” he said, adding there also have been 15,000 net new jobs created in Northwest Florida in the past year — “better than the U.S. average.”
But wages are below the average, he said, so even though the region’s cost of living is lower than elsewhere in the state, many recent college graduates are deterred after simply looking at the salary numbers.
Also speaking on the final day of the forum was Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. She said in August, 22,000 private jobs were created across the state, and the August unemployment rate declined to the lowest rate in a decade.
“We are adding jobs at almost twice the number across the nation,” she said.