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Tampa Tribune: Unlock Florida’s manufacturing potential

Monday, April 29, 2013

Manufacturing was once our nation’s strongest economic driver. The Industrial Revolution led to a proliferation of manufacturing in the United States from the mid-to late 19th century and into the early 20th. More Americans were shifting from agrarian lives to homes and jobs in bustling urban areas that were the hubs of the country’s manufacturing industry. These jobs generally paid higher wages than those on the farm, enabling many families to improve their economic status. The might of the manufacturing industry helped thrust the United States into the position of a global leader.

History can repeat itself. A revitalization of America’s manufacturing industry is occurring and with that comes new jobs and economic growth. Every direct manufacturing job creates another two to three indirect jobs. Every dollar we put into manufacturing generates $1.43 of activity in related sectors. And, mirroring the past, today’s manufacturing jobs continue to be high-wage jobs that pay above the state average.

Florida has the opportunity to capitalize on this resurgence by creating a business climate that promotes manufacturing growth. To accomplish this, we need to have all the right pieces. Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature are putting those pieces into place.

There are about 4,000 manufacturing jobs open in Florida right now. However, students entering the workforce lack the training and skill sets needed to fill these technical and technology-rich positions. Recently, the Legislature passed the Career and Professional Education Act, which helps students of all ages hone technology skills and provides high school and college students with the opportunity to earn industry certifications. This bill, signed into law by Scott last week, will help bridge the current gap in the talent pipeline and aid manufacturers in finding qualified employees.

Manufacturers in Florida are also uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of recent free-trade agreements signed with Panama and Columbia, growing Central and South American economies and an expanded Panama Canal. With 15 deep-water ports, many of which have undergone significant state-funded improvements, Florida manufacturers can expand their businesses by reaching more prospective customers abroad. As Florida manufacturing grows, so will Florida exports.

The Sunshine State’s tax climate also needs to be right for manufacturing to prosper. Currently, Florida is one of only nine states that imposes sales tax on the purchase of manufacturing machinery and equipment, putting manufacturers located here at a competitive disadvantage. Legislators have before them a proposal to eliminate this sales tax and free up dollars manufacturers can use to hire more employees, expand their facilities and make other capital investments. If passed, SB 518 and HB 391 will put Florida on a level playing field with other states and competitors all over the world. Domestic and foreign businesses looking to set up shop will find Florida a much more attractive location if we have a competitive sales tax environment.

As a Florida manufacturer, I urge Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and all members of the Legislature to eliminate sales taxes on the purchase of manufacturing equipment and send a clear signal that Florida is open for manufacturing business.

We can be the best manufacturing state in the nation. We can create new jobs and spur economic growth. Let’s reignite the industry that spurred one of our nation’s most prosperous eras. It is time to unlock Florida’s manufacturing potential so we can all benefit.
Terry Baker is general manager of PotashCorp-White Springs, a phosphate mining company in Hamilton County.

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