THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 11, 2012
Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that signs of strength in the global civil aviation market are being tempered by worries over declining U.S. defense budgets as he meets with private companies during a weeklong trade mission in the United Kingdom.
Speaking from London, Scott told the News Service of Florida that he remains optimistic that the state can benefit from global developments within the aircraft manufacturing industry that include the announcement last week of a new Airbus facility in Mobile, Ala.
Florida remains well poised to capture some of the economic activity expected to be generated by the $600 million plant, which is projected to directly employ 1,000 workers but will have a much broader economic impact, especially along the Florida Panhandle.
"People are excited," Scott said after a day of meetings with business prospects at the Farnborough International Air Show in London."There are a lot of suppliers to Airbus, and I think they are going to be more interested (in looking at Florida) now."
Scott said there is concern that long-term defense cutbacks could affect portions of Florida's aviation sector, which now is made up of nearly 2,000 companies employing more than 83,000 workers. Florida has a huge military aviation sector, with flight installations located throughout the state.
As part of a budget deal forged last year, federal lawmakers have agreed to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over a decade, half of which would affect the Defense Department. The cuts are expected to begin in January, but congressional leaders have been speaking about extending the deadline to March.
The budget cuts were part of a deal signed into law in August to raise the nation's debt limit. Along with spending cuts, lawmakers are also looking at moves that could increase taxes and eliminate tax loopholes. Scott said the looming deadline is on the minds of many at the air show.
"On one side, the one dealing with U.S. defense spending, there is concern about the automatic cutbacks" that could kick in, Scott said.
The governor said concern on the military side is being offset by an apparent buying spree in the commercial flight sector. Deals have already been announced at the air show totaling billions of dollars in contracts for aircraft and related equipment.
"On the civilian side, this is one of the busiest times for sales," Scott said. "Boeing has made some big announcements already."
Scott said the six day trade mission has given him an opportunity to tout some recent developments in the state including the push toward science, technology and math degrees and the creation of Florida Polytechnic, the state's 12th university that backers say will be a showcase for STEM education.
Besides making pitches to companies that Florida is a great place to do business, Scott said he's also meeting throughout the week with tourism officials. Britain is Florida's third largest source of tourists behind Canada and Brazil.
Scott also said he remains fiscally cautious about how to spend the state's economic development funds, which total about $103 million. Alabama reportedly provided about $165 million to Airbus to locate its manufacturing plant in Mobile. Scott said the news won't necessary prompt him to ask Florida lawmakers for more money.
"I want to make sure we get a return on the number of dollars we spend," Scott said.