Chamber summit: Technology, education investments could bring a manufacturing boom

AP factory
The state is in position to boost manufacturing — if it plays its cards right.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce wants Florida to have a top 10 economy by 2030, and it says growing manufacturing jobs is key to making that happen.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed economic growth to a crawl, Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin says the state is still in position to boost manufacturing — if it plays its cards right.

Yeargin’s company manufactures boats, mainly tow and saltwater fishing vessels, but it also has a stake in non-nautical industries.

“We were founded about 100 years ago and we’ve been through some interesting times,” he said during the Florida Chamber’s Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit. “Shortly after the company was founded, it went through the Great Depression, which took the company from boatbuilding, which we do now, into a number of different areas — they had to get really creative.”

The company spread into engines, transmissions, and even water parks to stay alive and thrive. But being headquartered in Florida also played a role.

Yeargin says Florida has a “leg up” over other states due to its regulatory environment and low taxes. Florida is currently ranks No. 12 among the states in terms of manufacturing jobs, but most of the states higher on the list lack those advantages.

“We have an opportunity to leverage that to bring manufacturing to Florida,” he said. “But we can be better.”

How manufacturing fares in the coming decade will partially depend on how the state adapts to and embraces technology.

“Technology is going to change dramatically, and it’s going to improve dramatically. It’s going to impact our businesses. In fact, I think it’s going to impact businesses so much, that there’s a good number of businesses in Florida that may not be around in 10 if we don’t make the right decisions,” he said, adding that Correct Craft has a division focused on disruptive technology and how it can improve the business.

Yeargin also stressed the need for an agile education system that trains students for the jobs of the future.

“When you talk to CEOs around the country and you ask them their number one issue, 90% of them will say the same thing: Finding good people and finding people that can come to work and have an impact,” he said.

“We need to do all the things that we can to continue to educate and develop our employees. We need to teach our students employability skills, things that they need to know to come to work and be productive. We need to teach technical skills and leadership management skills. We need to continue to invest in our universities, invest in our trade schools, and invest in our high schools as we look to develop those skills, both technical and employability,” he concluded.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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