FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
By JIM SAUNDERS AND JIM TURNER
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 2, 2017………. Since Gov. Rick Scott took office slightly more than six years ago, he has focused — some would say almost singularly — on a message of jobs, jobs, jobs.
But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who could run to replace the term-limited Scott next year, says economic-development efforts continue to lag in rural communities. In fact, Putnam said this week, rural economic development has been given “short shrift.”
“It’s time to make rural economic development a real priority,” Putnam said Tuesday while speaking to reporters and editors gathered at the Capitol for an annual Associated Press event. “It’s an example, I think, of where singles and doubles make a huge difference for a community. A community where adding a handful of jobs that otherwise wouldn’t rise to the top of the radar for our traditional economic-development agencies is a big deal for that community.”
Putnam said he will push for changes during the legislative session that starts March 7, including changes in a program known as the Rural Economic Development Initiative. He said, for instance, that he wants to shrink a council that oversees the program and put “decision makers” on it and “really move rural infrastructure and rural economic development forward.”
Putnam said some rural communities struggle to meet existing job demands because they don’t have enough trained workers. He said workforce development needs to be a priority.
State figures regularly show that many of the counties with the highest unemployment rates are in rural areas. They include counties in South Central Florida and parts of the Panhandle.
“Quite frankly, people who are from the rural parts of the state who don’t have their own interstate exits, who don’t have the coastal advantages, their kids shouldn’t have to leave town or leave the county to be able to find the careers to support their families in that community,” Putnam said.
HIAASEN COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP
Along with trying to boost economic development, Putnam is trying to combat dangerous pests and agricultural diseases that have names such as New World screwworms, giant African land snails and citrus greening. In addressing the issue Tuesday, Putnam gave a tip of the hat to columnist and author Carl Hiaasen, who has made a living writing about the sometimes-bizarreness of Florida.
“The screwworm issue, Zika, pythons in the Everglades, these are examples where things that used to be laugh lines or column material for Hiaasen and for others have gone from being an agricultural disease pest punchline into something that threatens Florida’s economy, our environment and our quality of life,” Putnam said.
Florida’s top ports lobbyist said he remains anchored in his job even as the state’s seaports have recently navigated some rough waters.
Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler told members of the Enterprise Florida International Trade Partnership Committee this week that there was no truth behind a “Tallahassee” rumor he was about to exit his job.
“I’m trying to quell rumors,” Wheeler said. “I don’t know where those are coming from. Tallahassee is a strange town.”
Wheeler said he brought up the rumor because he had been asked about it just prior to the meeting and made a quick call to his office.
“I wanted to contact my staff — that’s why I stepped out — because I didn’t want them to hear that from someone else,” Wheeler said.
The rumor came with the state’s seaports making news they most likely didn’t want.
On Monday, the Ports Council postponed a trade summit with Mexican officials scheduled for Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 in Orlando, due to uncertainty about the future of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. That uncertainty largely stems from President Donald Trump’s criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA.
And last week, as the first cargo ship from Cuba arrived at Port Everglades, Scott threatened, via Twitter, future funding for seaport operators that do business with Cuba.
The tweet caused officials from Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach to announce they would not sign economic-development paperwork as a Cuban delegation was visiting the state.
Scott went further with his threat on Tuesday. In outlining $178 million for the seaports in his proposed $83.5 billion budget for next fiscal year, Scott included language that none of the money could be “allocated to infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Call between US and Australia went like this. Trump: I put America first. Turnbull: I put Australia first. Awkward silence.” — former Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman (@RitchWorkman) after The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull because of a disagreement about a refugee issue.