Florida Gov. Rick Scott touts budget and construction for Manatee builders

mjohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 31, 2014 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Touting his new $74.2 billion budget proposal and spouting some well-worn personal anecdotes Thursday night, Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned a 10-minute speech to a regional construction industry group into a bragging session about his achievements over the past four years.

In town to speak to a crowd of about 500 construction industry professionals at the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange annual dinner at Polo Grill, Scott encouraged his audience to tell people around the country Florida is the best state to do business in and it needs more people to fill "285,000 job openings in the state today."

"You should brag every day," Scott said.

The speech came a day after Scott rolled out his 2014-15 state budget proposal, which includes $500 million in tax cuts and a $542 million increase in education spending.

The numbers are important, he said, because the accelerating state economy needs to attract more workers and more companies to do business in Florida.

"We are competing for jobs. We are winning," Scott said.

The comments hit home for Mark Sultana, an architect with DSDG Architects in Sarasota.

Sultana, listening to Scott in person for the first time, said the construction economy will soon run short of experienced construction workers.

"The shortage of labor will be a problem," he said.

Mike Neal, president of West Palm Beach-based Kast Construction, had the same concern. His commercial construction company is moving into the Tampa-St. Petersburg market with a number of projects, but is finding it a challenge to hire enough construction workers and "white collar guys."

"I've been here for a week trying to find the right guys," he said.

Scott trotted out stories about his childhood to illustrate the need for a steady supply of new jobs. Those tales included a description of his family's stint living in public housing and the worry his parents had over keeping their jobs.

To make certain jobs remain available, Scott said he promotes Florida for business and industry of all kinds, not as a place waiting for dollars to arrive through retirees moving to the state.

Though Scott held up the construction industry as one of the pillars of Florida's economy, he did not address industry-specific issues in his speech.

Willard Petrat, a vice president with Manatee County-based Trident Building Systems, said he had hoped the governor would address modifying the rates employers pay for workers' compensation insurance.

Scott did touch on reducing business regulations while offering no specifics.

Mike Bennett, Manatee County supervisor of elections and a former state senator, credited Scott for helping bring the construction industry back from unemployment rates as high as 25 percent two years ago.

"He is probably the greatest job creator in the United States of America," Bennett said while introducing Scott.

This was the first time Scott or any other governor has spoken to the builder's exchange, said Chairman Jason Swift of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.

Scott had been scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser put on by the builders exchange earlier in the day, but the event was canceled.

Scott instead appeared at a grand opening for Bristol-Myers Squibb North America Capability Center in Tampa.

Matt M. Johnson, business reporter, can be reached at mjohnson@bradenton.com.

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