Guest column: Nancy Stephens ... Positioning Florida as an Advanced Manufacturing Leader

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By Nancy Stephens

Tallahassee

Executive Director

Manufacturers Association of Florida

Florida has the opportunity to become a national advanced manufacturing hub, thanks to a number of factors. More than 60 percent of our manufacturers are small businesses, allowing them to be nimble and able to respond quickly to market needs. The small business character of our manufacturing sector also illustrates its entrepreneurial spirit. Our manufacturers make everything from orange juice and compressors to eye contact lenses, diabetes detectors, and drinking glasses.

There are 18,107 manufacturers in Florida, employing 314,800 individuals and paying an average annual salary of $52,378. That is $10,000 more than the average annual wage in Florida.

These are not the manufacturers of yesteryear. They are advanced manufacturers with computerized equipment that require highly skilled workers holding high school or college diplomas and industry certifications.

Some of the highest-paid positions are engineering managers, industrial production managers and materials scientists. There are also jobs for assemblers, sales representatives, inspectors, machinists, welders, truck drivers, researchers and clerks.

Florida truly offers a manufacturing job for every education level, from high school graduates to those with doctoral degrees.

Meanwhile, Florida is making significant investments in port and road infrastructure to prepare for the economic upturn and increased exporting. Manufactured goods represent 85 percent of goods exported from this state today, but we can do better. Small manufacturers are being encouraged to export to multiple countries to boost their sales and help them weather economic downturns. Our high schools are developing career academies that will teach students the critical skills they need to enter the advanced manufacturing field and, together with our colleges, they will help students earn industry certifications that make them immediately employable.

The stars are aligning, but our business tax climate must also be in alignment to make Florida the best place to manufacture in the United States. When businesses save money on taxes, they reinvest those savings. By eliminating the last remnant of sales taxes on manufacturing machinery and equipment, existing Florida manufacturers that have been here for decades will be encouraged to invest in capital equipment, upgrade their facilities, and employ more skilled and well-paid workers.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment completely. New and expanding manufacturing businesses in this state are already exempt from this tax, but existing businesses are taxed on equipment they buy unless they can show a 5 percent productivity increase. Why should businesses that have been here for decades be treated differently? It is time to level the playing field for all Florida manufacturers.

Eliminating this tax will also make Florida’s growing and vibrant manufacturing sector competitive with other states. Manufacturers from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas have not been strapped by this tax, giving them an advantage.

With a little help from the Legislature, Florida will emerge the best state for advanced manufacturing.

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