TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was at the Center for NeoVation in Kissimmee to talk about manufacturing as inflation woes continue across the United States, heightened by ongoing supply chain issues.
The meeting started with DeSantis at a podium, holding a sign that read “Manufacturing: Florida’s Future.”
The governor was joined by Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle, along with Henry Mack from the Florida Department of Education, among other business leaders in Florida.
“Manufacturing is something that we need to do a better job of,” DeSantis said. “We’ve worked really hard in Florida to have more opportunities with vocational education, we have expanded our manufacturing footprint in the state of Florida and we want to be able to continue to do that as we move forward.”
Then, DeSantis focused on supply chain issues and semiconductors.
“Semiconductors area huge issue,” DeSantis said. “If you look at how the supply chain works, we are overly dependent on foreign nations, including Taiwan, which is a good ally of ours, which is one that under really serious pressure from the Communist Party of China. And so we have an opportunity to do more here in the United States.”
DeSantis said the U.S. would be better off doing more manufacturing of semiconductors domestically.
To that end, the governor announced the state would be awarding $6 million to build infrastructure that would connect southern Osceola County to the NeoCity Technology district.
“This district is already home to six companies, including Skywater Technology, a U.S. owned and operated semiconductor foundry,” DeSantis said. “This award will support nearly 5,400 jobs.”
He said Osceola County officials estimate the award will lead to potentially tens of thousands of jobs as the county continues to grow.
“I’m also awarding Valencia College with $3.7 million to create new programs that focus on workforce training for chip and semiconductor industries,” DeSantis said. “Through this program students will be able to be certified in operating, repairing and designing the robots that are used to create semiconductors in just 14 weeks.”
The governor said Valencia College estimates that in the first two years of the program, 120 graduates will be able to find work in the NeoCity Technology District, without taking on student debt. He said the college has a track record of success, with 95% graduating, and 81% on average employed in their field a month after graduation.
“As we look forward to some of the challenges that our country faces, the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how reliant we are on foreign supply chains, particularly supply chains coming out of China, which is not our friend,” DeSantis said. “When you look at the semiconductors, we have so much that goes on in Taiwan, which again is a great ally of ours, but man, they are under an immense amount of pressure and threats from the Communist Party of China. The more that can be done here in the United States and in Florida, that gives more opportunities for people in Florida, of course, which is very important, but it does strengthen our economic resiliency and it does strengthen our national security.”
DeSantis said it was something important, and that the state was happy to support, with the new programs just serving as the beginning of future development.
Then DeSantis presented the awarded funds, providing photo opportunities for officials from Osceola County and Valencia College.
After presenting the funds, DeSantis turned to discussion of semiconductor supply issues and how it is impacting the U.S. He said the semiconductor shortage for the auto industry is affecting prices for both new and used cars, with demand for used cars rising as fewer new models are produced due to the lack of chips.
“Because there’s not as many new cars, there’s a huge demand for used cars,” DeSantis said. “There’s actually people whose used cars are appreciating in value now. It always used to be said that the minute you take a new car off a car lot, it goes down in value. It’s not a good investment, it really hasn’t been historically. Now you actually have people paying more, and people are making money off of used cars. That’s all tied back to what’s with the semiconductors and the chips.”
DeSantis said that he thinks the issue will work itself out in the near future, but that in the meantime, if something happens to Taiwanese chip production, it could “send this whole thing into a tailspin.” He said the country has some vulnerabilities in this issue, and is glad the state can be part of a solution.
DEO Secretary Dane Eagle spoke next, discussing how the funding from the Job Growth Grant Fund was investing in the state’s future and job market.
“Today is a prime example of how we can use this to better Floridians, the lives of all Floridians,” Eagle said. “The job growth grant fund is intended to invest in infrastructure and also workforce development across the entire state. Today we’re doing both. Not only that, we’re creating jobs, not just for Floridians, but we’re creating jobs that would otherwise be shipped overseas.”
The $6 million going to Osceola County to create a corridor to NeoCity is expected to support over 500 jobs, according to Eagle, while the funding for Valencia College will help train people to do the jobs being created. Eagle encouraged state colleges to apply for funding to continue the trajectory of job growth and development.
Dr. Brad Ferguson, senior vice president and general manager of Skywater Florida, spoke next.
“Skywater chose Florida as the state to make our very first expansion outside of our headquarters in Minnesota for many good reasons,” Ferguson said. He said the creation of NeoCity provided an opportunity that fit Skywater’s model of innovation, while also providing partners for workforce development and let them source the knowledgeable workers they need for their business.
Ferguson also praised the “business-friendly climate set by Gov. DeSantis” in their meetings before building in Florida, and thanked state leaders for working with them and awarding the funding to encourage businesses to focus on the Osceola region for semiconductor production and advancement.
Henry Mack spoke next, thanking the governor and Secretary Eagle for their commitment to career and technical education, on behalf of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
“We’ve been able to elevate career and technical education as a viable option for students. No longer is it something opposed to traditional academics or university life,” Mack said. “That’s great for many but CTE can be an equally awesome and viable, economically prosperous pathway for so many, and that is evidenced by the commitment of Valencia and our school districts, such as Osceola, to double down on career and technological education in our state.”
Mack said that associate science degree and certification holders, who would benefit from grants like the one delivered today, were earning the same lifetime earnings as baccalaureate degree holders that graduate from traditional universities. He said those educational and career paths shouldn’t be viewed as lesser than, but as alternate pathways to prosperity.
Mack said the investments made in education by the state during the pandemic for underemployed and unemployed adults helped the state see 17,000 certifications and 60,000 graduates in CTE degrees across Florida. He said it was a higher level than pre-pandemic, and again thanked state leaders for their support.
DeSantis spoke again, mentioning the goal of eventually having auto-manufacturing come to Florida, with the semiconductor production being an added benefit for businesses to potentially move to the Sunshine State.
“We have to start standing up as Floridians and Americans,” DeSantis said. “We cannot be captive, key sectors of our economy should not be captive to some of these foreign nations, particularly outfits like the Communist Party of China, and even when you have allies like Taiwan, how that could impact if there was a disruption there, could throw a lot of this for the loop, as we’ve already seen over the past year and a half.”
DeSantis said having more capacity in the country, particularly in Florida, to produce essential products, the more opportunities that would be available, to improve the economy and national security. He promised the state would be doing more in the years to come, before taking questions.
Answering the first question, DeSantis said Florida’s policies were better for businesses as they weren’t “heavy-handed mandates” and had better tax policies than other parts of the country.
“I think where we have really opened eyes for folks, since I became governor, what we have done for workforce education, and how really flexible our state college system has been,” DeSantis said. He pointed to programs that train and develop students and workers to meet the needs of the economy as different industries take off.
“There really is a demand for people that have good skills,” DeSantis said, referring to the number of job openings across the U.S. “And there’s never been a better chance to be in the job market, probably in a number of years because there’s competition and people are having to pay higher wages to attract people that have the skills that are needed. So if you’re someone looking for work or looking to go in a certain career, that’s what you’d want, you wouldn’t want it like it was 10, 12 years ago when the market crashed and people had trouble finding work at all.”
The governor said the growth of the business footprint gave the state a chance to capitalize on the opportunities and to do well.
“We are not letting anybody impose restrictions or mandates on the people of Florida,” DeSantis said about COVID-19 responses in other states compared to Florida. “That is totally off the table.”
He then criticized social distancing measures for an airborne pathogen such as the omicron variant, though he did say the omicron variant of COVID-19 is less pathogenic than the delta variant. DeSantis said the strategy of closing schools was fundamentally wrong and affected low-income communities harder than others.
“The notion that we would be imposing any types of mandates or restrictions on people is insane,” DeSantis said. “I cannot believe they’re closing schools in these other states. I mean, have we learned nothing throughout this whole time? They’re sacrificing these poor…and most of them are poor and low-income kids that are bearing the brunt of this, and they’re doing that for no scientific reason, it’s all politics and it’s just fundamentally wrong, and we’re not doing that.”
DeSantis pointed to the treatment initiatives the state has pushed, such as monoclonal antibody clinics, and said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to Florida’s request for more antibody doses, allowing more clinics to open.
Then, he criticized the Biden administration’s efforts for at-home rapid testing kit availability. DeSantis said the tests have not been sent.
“They haven’t sent anything that we’ve seen,” DeSantis said. “So we said ‘Well, OK, what we’re going to do, we’re going to do, we acquired some, we’re going to acquire more, we’re going to start with our long-term care facilities for our elderly, and then we’re going to try to focus it on the senior population.”
DeSantis said he didn’t want someone “75 to have to wait in line for an hour, especially when a lot of the people that are testing are more low-risk people.” He said the state was happy to provide that option, as well as promoting the state’s coming updated guidelines for COVID-19, announced at his recent news conference in Broward County with Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo.
He said people shouldn’t be afraid of omicron, and that this variant was more like a seasonal flu or a common cold. Still, DeSantis acknowledged the continued presence of the more severe delta variant in South Florida, but said most of the state was seeing omicron, not delta.
“No mandates, no restrictions allowed, people need to be able to make their decisions, we leave in a free state,” DeSantis said.
He mentioned the effort to restrict supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments, and that Florida had used more than other states, even per capita. However, DeSantis said the state was using more because it was one of the few states that had promoted COVID-19 as a treatable illness, in contrast to the federal government and other states.
Talking about student quarantines, DeSantis said the state would continue its guidance of symptoms-based decision-making, rather than “mass surveillance testing.” He said the state would remain committed to its current strategy. He also said that vaccines aren’t stopping the spread of COVID-19 due to omicron, and pointed to Miami-Dade County for its high vaccination and high infection rate.
“Fortunately it’s been mild, and fortunately it hasn’t caused a coordinate increase in hospitalizations compared to what you’ve seen with the cases,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis compared the access to vaccines to access to monoclonal antibodies, saying if the antibody treatments were more available, residents wouldn’t see him sending letters and fighting for access, and critiqued previous statements by federal leaders and President Joe Biden about how much the vaccines would prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Talking about Pfizer’s new antiviral treatment, DeSantis said he would make no statements on efficacy, pointing to the reduced effectiveness of vaccines over the course of the pandemic, despite high expectations when they were first released. Instead, he again offered support for treatment over solely focusing on vaccination efforts.
“With omicron, there’s not enough evidence to say that Regeneron and the bamlanivimab work, there’s not enough evidence to say if it’s going to be as effective or more against delta, we just don’t know,” DeSantis said. “Anecdotally we’ve seen some positive outcomes. But even if it’s a reduction from 80% to 50%, if you’re a high-risk person, wouldn’t you want your symptoms, or your chance of being hospitalized reduced in half? That’s a really big deal.”
The governor again referred back to his request for a differentiation between hospitalizations for COVID-19 and those hospitalized who test positive for COVID-19 when being treated for a different condition. He said HHS has not distinguished a difference, but he has continued to request separate numbers in Florida, and from Florida hospitals.
“That gives us a better indication of the clinical consequences for something like omicron,” DeSantis said. “And yes, even with all of the incidentals, the hospitalization increase has not come close to matching the case increase, but probably from a clinical perspective, it’s even less when you look at those numbers.”
DeSantis said across Florida, if there were five to 6,000 hospitalizations, hypothetically, maybe 3,000 would be getting treatment for COVID specifically. He said he was grateful that omicron has not led to serious outcomes at the same rate as the delta variant did.
The governor said he’d like the hospitalization numbers, with the more granular differentiation, to be released soon and be the method the state uses going forward. He said he hoped the CDC would come to a similar realization, and that it should have an affect on how the COVID mortality data is analyzed.
“I think it would be helpful to get some clarity on that, and just let people know,” DeSantis said. “It would also put people’s minds at ease about omicron and their risk from omicron. We do not see any elevated risk of omicron compared to others, we do see decreased risk, and that’s a good thing. That should be cause for people to stay healthy, do all that, and if you have certain health things, take whatever precautions you want. But for most people, you should just be out, understanding that it’s something that’s out there but it’s not something you should orient your life around.”