Future of Florida Forum: Ron DeSantis says Florida is ‘the freest state’ — and businesses are noticing

He credits the economic recovery to anti-lockdown, anti-mandate policies.

Gov. Ron DeSantis took the stage at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Future of Florida Forum Wednesday, where he extolled the state’s economic recovery over the past year.

“It was mentioned on the jobs in September that we had (added) 84,500 jobs and the nation reported about 194,000, so we’re clearly way, way punching above our weight class in terms of what we’re seeing,” DeSantis said of recent employment numbers released by the federal government.

“And that discrepancy is not something that would just happen by accident. I mean, it’s happening, because there was a much sounder approach that was done here in the state of Florida. Think about our service industry. When COVID hit, everyone thought that Florida — Florida and Hawaii — would probably be the worst because people wouldn’t be traveling and we’d have all these folks that wouldn’t be able to work.”

But DeSantis said recent months have flipped the narrative, with Florida’s cornerstone industry beating the national average on the rebound.

“We believe that we needed to protect their jobs and make sure businesses could operate and we figured we’d work it out. And so the result was in August of 2021 hotel revenue from hotels in Florida was up 11% over August of 2019 — pre-COVID. The rest of the country was down 5% over that period,” he said. “If you look at all those numbers really in any given month, but certainly here recently, we are far, far outpacing the rest of the country.”

The positive economic indicators, DeSantis asserted, were a result of his administration’s policies, which often flout federal directives and accepted medical guidance on masking and vaccinations. Earlier in the day, DeSantis told reporters in Lakeland the state has filed a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden‘s vaccine mandate on federal contractors.

“Look it started as 15 days to slow the spread. Now it’s get three jabs just to keep your job,” DeSantis said of the federal vaccine mandate and, presumably, booster shots. “So don’t let them ever tell you this is only going to be a little bit more. And that’s it. They push the envelope day after day for over a year and a half.”

DeSantis said his opposition to mandates and guidance “in terms of who could operate” have led to business leaders who “have moved their whole business to Florida, especially people in like restaurants and stuff because they were treated horribly.”

The Governor also touched on education, such as increased funding for workforce training and the rising stature of state universities.

“I think in Florida, you can get a good education because we don’t let them raise tuition, so you’re not going to go to the poorhouse in terms of going into debt. There’s a lot of universities throughout this country that are very middling universities, but they’re super expensive. So you have kids that will go and they’re told ‘man unless you get that degree, you can’t be successful.’ So they’ll go, and then they’ll go $100,000 in debt, the degree will be in zombie studies or something like that. And then, guess what, the seas don’t part for you when you get out,” he said.

No Florida universities offer a degree in zombie studies, though, surprisingly, there are courses in that field offered at some out-of-state schools, such as the University of Baltimore.

Public safety was another talking point for the Governor, who pushed through a controversial bill last Session that cracks down on protests. It has since been the subject of several state and federal lawsuits. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker temporarily blocked the bill last month.

“I also just think from from a scientific perspective, it’s clear that being vaccinated does not mean you will not be infected. I mean, like it’s been said that that’s the case. I know Biden says that all the time. The data does not support that at all,” he said. DeSantis speculated the state “probably had a huge percentage” of breakthrough cases.

Though breakthrough cases are indeed possible, the data does show infections among vaccinated individuals are far less common than in the unvaccinated. Additionally, those who are vaccinated and later contract COVID-19 are less likely to end up in a hospital or dead.

DeSantis told the room of business leaders that catering to so-called wokeness — be it on vaccines or voting rights — is not in the best interest of corporate America.

“It’s a free country. I mean, honestly, if some of those companies want to go in and jab, you actually have every right to do it. But the minute you go into becoming more of a political actor rather than just simply a business actor, you know, guys like me got to treat you that way,” he said, though his tone did not smack of a warning. “And if you’re using your power as a corporation, and you’re leveraging that to try to advance an ideology, I think it’s very dangerous for this country. I’m not just going to sit idly by. I mean, we’re going to make sure we’re fighting back on whatever fronts we need to fight back on.”

DeSantis closed with an update on his wife, First Lady Casey DeSantis, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I’m gonna tell you she handles all this stuff very, very well,” he said, thanking the crowd for their thoughts and prayers. “She’s done a lot for this state. She’s got a lot more to do. And I think that’s one of the reasons why she’s working so hard to get through this chapter and to be back better than ever.

“Who knows, maybe next year she’ll be here giving this speech.”

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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