Published: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 6:00 p.m.

The state of Florida over the past year has added an estimated 5,000 manufacturing jobs, thanks in part to the temporary sales tax exemption on machinery and equipment that passed the Legislature in 2014. Currently, there is legislation being proposed (HB 115) that I have co-sponsored for the 2016 session that seeks to make permanent this exemption, which is due to expire in 2017.

For more than 20 years, our country saw an outflow of manufacturing jobs shipped overseas for various reasons. While we cannot change the past, I believe we must do everything possible to change the future and how Volusia County can play a role in that future. Today, we see manufacturers bringing many of their operations back to the United States. Our ability to outproduce any nation in the world has outweighed the rising costs of doing business overseas.

Many states have been aggressively courting manufacturers to relocate outside their traditional base of operations with states historically known to have extensive manufacturing ecosystems already in place. I, along with many in the Legislature, have been advocating for several years that we must have as robust, if not better, an ecosystem that brings manufacturers here to Florida and more specifically to Volusia County. So what is it going to take?

First, the continued support of the permanent elimination of the tax exemption on machinery and equipment. Our already favorable tax conditions in Florida give us the competitive edge over other states that have kept their taxes too high for manufacturers to truly compete in the global marketplace. As manufacturers embrace new technologies in automation, robotics, and smart systems, their ability to evolve must not be hampered by a tax that seeks to discourage further investment.

Additionally, we in Volusia County must continue to support our local manufacturers by having a continuous pipeline of skilled workers. Many of our schools have been working on such efforts for several years along with the Volusia Manufacturers’ Association. We can all agree that not every child will go on to a four-year college. What does that mean for the rest? They either leave Volusia County seeking opportunities elsewhere, or find employment in historically lower-paying industries. Both outcomes do nothing to raise the standard of living in Volusia.

I am encouraged by our new school superintendent’s efforts to try to push the envelope, so that our administrators have the opportunity to look at new and innovative ways to engage our students. But he cannot do it alone. We, as residents of Volusia County, must continue to support and have conversations with our School Board members and each other.

It is estimated that the average annual wage for an individual working in the manufacturing sector is around $54,000. That is not minimum wage, and is higher than the national average of wages across the board. No longer can these jobs be discussed in passing, as if they were something to frown upon. Our manufacturing base was always a source of pride in this country.

If we can at least agree on these two major points — a tax exemption to encourage investment, and building an industry-certified workforce through our local schools and colleges — I believe Volusia County will be able to compete in recruiting those manufacturers looking for a new home.

I love Volusia County. We have the best to offer. From our world-renowned beaches to our beautifully kept springs; from our International Speedway to our well-recognized universities, Volusia County is a great place to work and live. I am proud to call Volusia County home.

 

— Santiago represents House District 27 in the Florida Legislature and is a former Deltona city commissioner. State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is sponsoring the companion legislation to HB 115.