MANATEE -- Stumping Thursday in support of small Florida businesses, Gov. Rick Scott brought his campaign for a second term to a Manatee County tool and mold maker that has resurrected part of the county's once-embattled pleasure boat industry.
Speaking to scores of manufacturing workers, elected officials and business owners gathered on the vast manufacturing floor at Marine Concepts on Whitfield Avenue, Scott used the company as a backdrop for his "Let's Keep Small Business Working" campaign push. Part of a two-week emphasis on small business, the event gave the governor a chance to talk about improvements in the state economy and single out a company with a growing workforce and business over the past few years.
The location was emblematic for Scott, who has emphasized job creation during his first term. Marine Concepts, a Cape Coral-based company, established a new division in 2012 in a derelict Manatee County manufacturing building.
Owned by a former Wellcraft President Bob Long, the company now occupies more than 200,000 square feet of former Wellcraft buildings. Long has hired about 100 people for its local operation, including many workers laid off by Wellcraft when it went out of business.
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Scott said the venture was one of many that rebuilt Florida's economy after the Great Recession.
"One or two or three individuals get together, they have an idea and work their tail off and that's what Bob and Matt did," Scott said of Long and Matt Chambers, president of Marine Concepts parent company JRL Ventures. "The nice thing is they have a successful business. But the real nice thing is they have 200 people that now have a job."
In a seven-minute speech, Scott credited small business for being the backbone of the state job market. Providing 80 percent of Florida's jobs, small businesses have been "the lifeblood of this state" during a three-year period where 600,000 private sector jobs were created, he said.
Taking aim at former Gov. Charlie Crist, his rival in the gubernatorial race, Scott said he is providing the support for small businesses Crist did not. A new small business proposal includes $10 million for private companies that create new jobs while solving "public challenges." He also seeks to award up to $100,000 in an annual business competition hosted by state colleges and universities.
Scott blamed Crist for losing 832,000 jobs during his term in office.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who was also at the Marine Concepts event, discussed the state's regulatory climate, including the amount of time it takes to get a professional license. During Crist's administration, he said it took 41 days to process those licenses. Now, it takes two days.
"Think about that, 39 days you cannot transact business," he said.
According to the Miami Herald, a new poll conducted by SurveyUSA for Tampa's WFLA NBC affiliate television station gives Scott a 42-40 percent edge over Crist.
Others speaking in support of the governor included state Sen. Bill Galvano, state Rep. Jim Boyd, and Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle.
Beyond the politics, Thursday's event was a friendly affair. Marine Concepts employees posed with Scott for more than half an hour as the governor shook hands and greeted supporters.
Long said he saw the governor's visit as payoff on a successful business venture.
"It succeeded beyond my expectations," Long said of the Manatee manufacturing facility. "When I saw how well we were doing, I asked the governor to come by sometime."
Kevin Long, a JRL project manager, said Scott contributed to the company's success in Manatee County.
"The governor's office has been instrumental in helping us get up and going," he said.
The company received $192,000 in state grants to start the Manatee County facility. It also qualified to receive $48,000 from the county if it created 80 jobs in the first three years of operation.
The Marine Concepts stop was the second of the day for Scott. Earlier, he spoke at another small business event at Fort Myers hurricane product manufacturer Storm Smart Industries.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.