Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County/Florida News

Governor Scott's Economic Vision Comes to North Florida: He came to listen

Chamber Executive Director, Dennille Decker, introduces Gov. Scott as Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson looks on.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County leg of Governor Scott's last minute whistle stop economic development tour of northern Florida was made a success by the combined efforts of the Lake City\Columbia County Chamber of Commerce's Executive Director, Dennille Decker, and her Administrative Assistant, Sonja Meads. With only a couple of days notice the room was booked; the guest list was prepared; and the media was advised. Yesterday afternoon, the Governor played to a full house of handpicked folks.

Ms. Decker introduced the Governor to the gathering, "The purpose of this meeting is the Governor wants to hear from you. He wants you to ask him questions. He wants you to talk to him and tell him what's going on in the community."

Chamber President Todd Wilson thanked the Governor for coming into the area and told him, "Assembled here today are the leaders of City government, County government, economic development, public schools, college administrators, civic groups and many members from the Chamber of Commerce who are from the private sector."

Gov. Scott brought the Commissioner of Education, Joy Robinson, with him. Gov. Scott told the assembly that Mr. Robinson came from Virginia.

DEO's Sherri Martin confers with Jessie Quillin, County Economic Development Director

The Governor also brought along Sherri Martin from the Department of Economic Opportunity. "Her whole job is to work with rural counties on how we get more jobs. That's her whole focus," he said.

The Governor continued, "My whole focus is three things: To have the best education system. We've increased spending on education by $1,068,000,000. We've cut the business tax for two thirds of the companies that were paying it. We've reduced regulations and hopefully you are dealing with state government that is responsive -- if not, call me."

Commission of Education Robinson: The Governor understands that if you want a great job you need a great education and the earlier that we invest the better... We have more money than we had before -- $150 more per student.

Gov. Scott told the group that his report card every month is the unemployment numbers. He said Florida is doing better than the national average and recently has bucked the trend towards higher unemployment.

Todd Powell of Plumb Creek tells the Gov. that the Feds haven't gotten the message about the rail line through the National Forrest.

Plumb Creek speaks for County economic development

Ms. Decker then introduced the County's new Economic Development Director, who turned the microphone over to Todd Powell of Plum Creek. Mr. Powell spoke on behalf of Columbia County economic development.

Mr. Powell explained to the Governor that Plum Creek is the largest private land owner in Florida "with approximately 590,000 acres in 22 different counties."

Speaking about Columbia County's Inland Port, Mr. Powell said, "This is probably our most exciting project."

Mr. Powell explained that 500 acres have been set aside for the catalyst site representing a 14 County area.

Mr. Powell stated the obvious when he told the Governor, "When you look on a map and you see two major interstates and you see two class I rails, with Norfolk Southern and CSX, and with the Port of Jacksonville 60 miles to the east, you can see why companies are driven to locate within Columbia County."

Mr. Powell was looking for the Governor to intercede with United States Forest Service so a rail line could be run through the Osceola National Forest and a bird sanctuary into the catalyst site.

Mr. Powell told the Governor, "Unfortunately, the federal government has not necessarily gotten the message as far as the importance of this site for jobs... The uncertainty of the rail makes it difficult for anyone to make a capital commitment to go to the site."

Mr. Powell said that there was an option and claimed that it was both more expensive and less environmentally friendly because it would impact on certain wetlands.

Mr. Powell said that the birds in the sanctuary would benefit from the rail line, although he did not explain this.

He also mentioned that Plum Creek would be willing to trade property in another state for rail access through the national forest.

Mr. Powell closed by telling the Governor that it's been great working with state agencies and "this is a big change from the past."

Gov. Scott told Mr. Powell that he has a good working relationship with the Department of Interior's Ken Salazar and he would be glad to sit down and speak with him. "My experience with him is that he is very pro-business."

County Commissioner Ronald Williams tells the Gov.: "That dog won't hunt, brother, "as Ms. Decker looks on.

Columbia County Speaks: "That dog won't hunt, brother."

Columbia County's Commissioner Ronald Williams told the Governor that Columbia County needs a governor like former Gov. Martinez, who Commissioner Williams said, "Knew where Columbia County was."

Then Commissioner Williams brought up the water management district. He told the governor, "A former director from Suwannee River Water Management [District] said to us, "'If you want jobs to come to Columbia County tell them to bring you water - with him.'"

Commissioner Williams told the Governor, "That dog won't hunt, brother."

Commissioner Williams complained about the recent permit "which allows JEA to draw 150,000,000 gallons of water out of the aquifer every day."

Commissioner Williams told the Governor, "We need your help. We cannot develop jobs without water."

Gov. Scott responded, "How we deal with water is going to be the future of our state... we have to deal with this the right way. I will call DEP, figure out where they are on it, and I will get back with you."

The High School Principal Speaks

Next up was Columbia County High School Principal Terry Huddleston, who told the Governor that Columbia County High School students that don't want to go to college can get logistics training and go to Target Industries and make $40,000 a year driving a forklift.

Gov. Scott talks about education.

The Governor told Mr. Huddleston that he loved being a student and that he thought the purpose of education was "to get a job."

The Governor said that tax money used to support universities should be used in education that helps students get jobs. "We've got to hold all of our education dollars accountable," he said.

"With your money it's got to be spent helping individuals get a degree – get a certificate so they can get a job."

What about the loss of construction jobs?

Mark Vann, a member of the County Economic Development Committee asked the Governor how he was going to replace jobs that were lost in construction.

The Governor explained that some things were looking up.

He said that tourism was up 4.4% last year – "that's positive."

He continued, "Agriculture will not continue to do well unless we do things -- we are [running] out of water -- have regulations that hurt the industry. We have land, water and sun, so that should continue to go well."

"We should do well with our ports... if we do the right thing with our ports we have a significant opportunity and we're soon to be the third biggest state when we pass New York next year."

"If we play to our strengths and make sure our schools educate for the workforce of the future there is no state that should beat us, as far as growth; once that happens then construction will come back. It will not come back before that."

The Gov. shares a light moment with Dedra Hollingsworth, Assistant to County Economic Development

Governor Scott On Appointments

"Often people [those who are appointed] forget that they didn't get elected Governor. So they think that if they have titles, they get to raise your taxes and make policy decisions that are totally different than what I believe in, because somebody appointed them."

The Governor concluded his Columbia County Roundtable this way: If you have anything you think we need to focus on -- get in touch with us, because we care.


While Governor Scott hypes a falling unemployment rate, there are still 800,000 unemployed workers in Florida. Add those that have fallen out of the workforce and the number is well over 1,000,000.

What Commissioner Williams didn't tell the Governor was that Columbia County has a representative on the Suwannee River Water Management District and while the negotiations for the permit were going on he didn't advise the County.

Todd Powell of Plumb Creek's statement regarding companies being driven to Columbia County because of its location does not stand the light of day. Only a few companies have located to Columbia County and many have been driven away because of a legendary good ole boy cronyism and a failing educational system, which helps to maintain an admitted 30% county wide illiteracy rate.

Rail service at Plumb Creek's catalyst site has not inhibited the most recent prospects, as it was announced that it was not deemed necessary for them to locate there.

If the success of the Governor's Columbia County Economic Roundtable is judged by a soft spoken Governor, who was responsive and in command of the facts, the Roundtable was a success.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On June 6, 2012, citizen49a wrote:

Kudos to Commissioner Williams for his bulldog dedication to pursuing one of the most important issues in this area - who's going to get to use our water and how much of it they're going to get -  demonstrated yet again by his bringing it publicly to the Governor's attention.  The Water Management Districts have abrogated their responsibility.  Without a strong local voice like Commissioner Williams to assert our rights, we're pretty much going to get the hind teat - if we don't get shoved out of the way altogether.


On June 6, Madame X wrote:

You should get an award for the latest Columbia County Observer's economic development news coverage........... "He came to listen."

I noticed that a few good ole boys were missing with the North Florida Economic Development Partnership Inc. ---Jeff Hendry, Allen Cherry, and then their side-kicks Danny Johnson, Rick Breer, etc. --- or maybe they didn’t need to show up because he’s already listened to them.

Thanks for going the extra mile on this one............and remember in the future that the Indians never would have lost the war if they had stuck together.

PS.  If you should find out about Powell’s pit to trade Plum Creek property in another state for the rail site needed to set this inland port project in motion in North Florida --- let me know immediately.


On June 8, 2012, Confused in Columbia County wrote:

I was wondering at the fact that there was no reference to Florida Crown Workforce Board representatives being present at the meeting with Governor Scott.  Were they present, or even invited?  I ask because it seems like a no-brainer that our local workforce agency that assists employers and jobseekers, would be present at ANY discussion regarding jobs and economic opportunities, let alone one with our governor.  I have also seen their representatives at chamber events, so I know they are members.  Will you please address this subject?


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