Putnam tour highlights need for skilled labor

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, left, speaks with Mike Hankins, right, of Crevalle Boats Monday during a tour of the Crevalle Boats factory.

WILDWOOD — The extensive tour state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam took Monday afternoon at Crevalle Boats only reinvigorated what he sees as an essential need for growing Florida’s economy — vocational and technical training.

Putnam, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, asked Mike Hankins, Crevalle operations manager, and Nick Engels, president, whether anything poses a hindrance to this fast-growing Wildwood maker of high-quality bay boats.

“For me, it’s the lack of training,” Hankins said. “There’s not enough workforce.”

Engels added, “We’re not seeing the craftsmen in vo-tech.”

Those comments elicited a quick reply from Putnam.

“You’re singing my song,” he told them.

The visit to the company’s Wildwood manufacturing facilities also gave Putnam an opportunity to applaud its recent selection by the Manufacturers Association of Florida as its 2017 Small Manufacturer of the Year.

What Engels heard impressed him about Putnam’s understanding of the boat-making industry’s importance to the state, as well as his curiosity about Crevalle’s manufacturing processes.

“I think he’s very invested,” Engels said. “He’s a native Floridian. He understands the outdoor lifestyle. He also understands manufacturing. For us, that’s a key piece, being able to bring that early knowledge with him to the state. It’s going to help us immensely.”

And the agriculture commissioner’s grasp on vocational and technical training impressed Engels.

“It’s absolutely encouraging,” he said. “It’s something we’ve pressed for, for a long time. It starts at an early age with financial literacy, shops in schools. It needs to be brought back. We need vo-tech, because (the students) are going to be the backbone of our workforce in the future. Unfortunately, (vo-tech training) is dying out at the moment. We’ve got to work very hard to bring them back.”

That message resonates throughout nearly every industry in the state, too, Putnam said.

“One of my passions is to put vocational and technical training back into our schools; in the middle schools, the high schools and our technical colleges, because these are good-paying jobs,” he said. “And (Crevalle) has vacancies right now. So, if Florida is going to continue to be a hub for jobs that keeps our young people here to be able to find good-paying careers, we have to make Florida the launch pad for the American Dream. We better give them the skills that they need to be successful in boat manufacturing and engineering, the construction trades, health care. You name it; there’s lot’s of good jobs out there.

The job of a governor as the chief executive relies much on assisting companies like Crevalle as much as possible to expand and create jobs, Putnam said.

“What a beautiful example of the American Dream coming to life here in Florida,” he said. “A company that is just a few years old is now the Manufacturer of the Year for the entire state of Florida, employing people in our area, producing a world-class product that’s being shipped to waters all over the country to really put North Central Florida on the map as a boat-manufacturing hub. I’ve said all along, ‘The state that is the Fishing Capital of the World should build more boats here.’ These guys are living proof that’s possible.”

But that’s not all that Putnam intends to accomplish if elected governor. He has a keen eye on one of the state’s growing demographics — seniors.

“The best thing we can do to serve our seniors is the same thing we can do for all Floridians — build upon that strong economic foundation that Gov. Scott has worked on,” he said. “I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with him on the state Cabinet for the last seven years, creating jobs, creating opportunities. The Villages represents a magnet for talent to our state; people who worked hard and played by the rules and saved up. And Florida is their prize. Until Rick Scott and the cabinet came into office, the state government was really capping the limits of growth and that ability, and that was wrong. So, we’re going to continue to have a vibrant economy, good jobs for our families to be able to relocate here and be able to contribute to our economy.”

Putnam also believes in diversifying the economy through public policy.

“Well, I’m a farmer myself; I’m in the citrus and cattle business, a fifth-generation Floridian, and a business owner,” he said. “So, I bring all those experiences to everything that I do. I have a depth of knowledge about our state, and a passion for putting Florida first. Agriculture in Florida, unbeknownst to many people, is our second-largest industry; second only to tourism. And we continue to grow and expand that industry. As governor, I would add legs to the stool. Now, the legs to the Florida economic stool are growth and construction, tourism and agriculture. We need to diversify that; create new opportunities for new industries to come into our state so that we can withstand a downturn in tourism, a downturn in the economy, a housing bubble, such as what we endured in 2008 and 2009.”

To encourage growth, Putnam said he also would continue Scott administration policies that reduced onerous regulations.

“I believe in freedom and liberty and the invisible hand of the marketplace,” he said. “So many of the failed states in this country — New York, New Jersey, Illinois of the world — are driving talent out of their states into ours because they tried to pick winners and losers, and they picked wrong. As a result, they have high legacy costs, high taxes and lots of bureaucracy. In Florida, we empower individuals, families and small businesses to find their piece of the American Dream here. That’s what a Florida-first agenda looks like, and that’s what I’ll implement as governor.”

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.