Future of Florida Forum: Wilton Simpson highlights education, environmental policy as keys to Florida’s economic success

flchamber 5 10.27.21
What's good for education is good for business, Simpson said.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said Florida’s economy has weathered the pandemic because of smart decisions at the state level well before COVID-19 entered the lexicon.

During a talk at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum, the Trilby Republican credited the Legislature’s focus on education — including “school choice” vouchers and funding for trade education programs.

“Your state Legislature has spent a disproportionate amount of time on education. We don’t get a lot of credit for that, but we currently have the No. 1 university and college education system in the country, four years in a row,” Simpson said.

“What does 15-20 years from now look like? If we have the best education facilities — university, college and K-12 systems — we will be the best place to do business by far,” he said.

Simpson also noted some of the Legislature’s overtures to lure businesses in high-tech and high-paying industries to the Sunshine State, including the sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment passed by lawmakers in the 2016 Legislative Session.

“We’re trying to give the state of Florida the opportunity to bring all the manufacturing here that we can have,” he said.

Simpson also praised the state’s effort to end so-called “lockdown” policies and reopen businesses after the pandemic’s initial peak last year.

“By keeping our economy open, we took a lot of the pain away from our economic strategy. But what else did that do? How much more domestic violence would we have had if we were a lockdown state? Child abuse, mental health issues, other things that we’ve come into?”

Simpson said, long term, the environment is the most important cog in Florida’s future and that clean water, specifically, is key to keeping the state’s top industries chugging.

“Agriculture, tourism, construction — to do any of those things you need clean water, fresh water. If you want to eat or drink … you need water,” he said.

Simpson, who is also running for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, highlighted the passage of legislation to address sea level rise and nuisance flooding last Session. The Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan was a top priority for him and House Speaker Chris Sprowls and will be backed with $500 million in federal funding.

It was one of several pieces of water quality legislation introduced and signed into law during the 2021 Legislative Session. Others include the creation of the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which will help local governments complete resilience projects. It was seeded with $29 million in the current budget and will receive $100 million in recurring funding starting next year.

Simpson closed by echoing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to redirect more cargo traffic to Florida ports.

“We went through inflation, some of us, in the ’70s. Real inflation. And I believe we are certainly looking at the same opportunities to have inflation for this year and next year. And the difference is now we have a supply chain problem,” he said.

Simpson said incompetence at the federal level and in other states where goods arrive from elsewhere, such as California, are only exacerbating the problem and that Florida could alleviate some of the pressure.

“I certainly hope we can get some of those ships coming to Florida, to the East Coast, and start to un-break those supply chains,” he said.

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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