State Rep. David SantiagoThere have been several articles and opinion pieces in The News-Journal on the importance of manufacturing in Volusia County and the surrounding areas. The counties, as well as the state, have been working on policies that attract manufacturers from other states and those moving back from overseas. As I close out my term as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and a member of the Volusia County legislative delegation, I would like to touch on some areas of success for the region, and highlight an area where I believe we could use more assistance.

This past year, I secured $185,000 in the budget to help programs in the Volusia County school system already in place, and those looking to get a jump start. I have been advocating that we must push job training at the high school level, and as far down as the middle schools. This is not to compete with Daytona State College, but to better prepare students for our local, first-class training programs should some of these students go on to college.

Some of the money will go to an area high school for the purchase of other advanced machinery, some will go to two middle schools to help jump-start their maker-space labs, and the rest to an elementary school for the upgrade of computers in the robotics program.

Another win for our area and the state of Florida within this industry was the passage of the sales tax exemption on equipment purchases. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott and State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, we have made the exemption permanent, which allows our manufacturers to better compete regionally and globally. It also lets Florida compete with other states in our attempt to lure manufacturers here to provide jobs for Floridians. We are already seeing the benefits of this policy with companies like B Braun Medical Inc. moving part of its operations from Germany to Daytona Beach.

Another benefit for the region is a deepening of the partnership between the VMA manufacturing alliance, Daytona State College, and the Volusia County school system. Jayne Fifer, CEO of the VMA, has been working for years on educating the public on how important this industry is to our county and ensuring the perceptions of manufacturing change. It is often said that manufacturing today is “not your grandfather’s manufacturing.” Manufacturing in most cases is not as “dirty” as it used to be perceived. In most cases, it is high-tech, and surrounded by a relatively clean environment. As we look to further diversify Volusia County’s economic development and raise the standard of living, manufacturing must be a part of that conversation, and Jayne is definitely the best asset we have in our area.

So what more can be done? The manufacturers are a big component; it's an area where more is being done and can be done. Part of the perception change and developing a sustainable workforce has to be the participation in the classroom by the industry. Money helps, but it is not the only answer. By further allowing internships, on-the-job training, and visits to the classroom by individuals working within the industry, we can deepen our understanding of the needs of manufacturers as well as ensure that the hands-on aspect of any training further enhances the curriculum.

While much has been accomplished, we still have further to go. Federal, state, and county elected officials must always remain engaged. The business leaders must do their part to ensure workforce sustainability, and the schools must ensure that the knowledge is relevant and up-to-date. If we continue down this path, there is an even brighter future for our area.

 

— Santiago, a Deltona Republican, was a member of the Deltona City Commission before being elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012. He is running for Congress in District 6.