SEBRING - Gina Reynolds was so pleased with Thursday night's education and economic discussion with Rick Scott, she wants to try it again in future years.
"Definitely," said Gina Reynolds, executive director of Florida's Heartland Regional Economic Development Initiative.
She invited the governor to meet with 350 students and educators from all six of Fhredi's counties: DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry and Okeechobee, plus the Lake Okeechobee towns of Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay. The crowd, which paid $15 for a barbecue dinner at the Highlands Today Center, also included State Rep. Cary Pigman, county commissioners and business leaders.
"Economic development and education are already working together," Reynolds said. "We wanted to pull together the main players."
"He has been leading the charge on education and he's the chief economic developer for the state," said Reynolds, who also shared the dais with school board chair Andy Tuck and Mark Morton, president of a Lykes Brothers-A. Duda & Sons initiative to build a 30-million-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center on 4,700 acres in what is now the grassy fields of Glades County. The intermodal facility would serve the Americas, Asia and Western Europe.
She wanted students to learn that future jobs will be there for them. "They're learning that the communities care about them. We are interested in them. Education is important, and the community is investing dollars, resources and time to create opportunities for our students."
On the opposite hand, economic developers aren't just looking for today's talent supply chain, they'll need what's available five, 10, 15, 20 years now, Reynolds said.
With its agricultural resources, Reynolds said economic developers should be targeting industries like food processing and food distribution, Reynolds said. "The FHREDI board of directors, they want a closer alignment."
"Anything is possible," Scott addressed the audience for 20 minutes with a speech similar to the talk he delivered July 10 at Olympic Restaurant in Avon Park. "There should be no limitations. But you can't get there if you don't have a government that makes it possible.
"If you're in business, you're there to sell to customers," Scott said. "But they don't say, 'I'll pay a little bit more if that business is in a high tax area.' If government makes it difficult to be in business, business won't be there."
Both businesses and governments are competing, Scott said. "You're competing with other businesses in Florida, we're competing with other states. You don't say, I'm only going to buy if it's made in Highlands County or Florida or the United States. You don't."
Gray Swoope Jr., CEO of Enterprise Florida, "has created a process where we are calling on corporations constantly," Scott said. "They don't call on you; you call on them. The result is that Brinks has moved its headquarters from New Jersey to Florida, bringing 500 jobs. Verizon, Hertz and others have also brought jobs here, Scott said. "Because we called and asked, "How can we solve your problems?'"
Addressing students, Scott said districts must make sure that students have choices. Addressing teachers, the governor said Florida has guaranteed a pay raise. Fourth graders tested second in the world in reading, and the state college is better than any other. "Bar none," Scott said.
Not forgetting his 2014 reelection campaign, however, Scott suggested that the previous governor - Charlie Crist - left the state in a mess of recession and higher unemployment. Scott's administration by contrast, has cut taxes, added jobs and paid off debts, he asserted.