BROOKSVILLE - It was cold and rainy outside Silverthorn Country Club on Thursday morning when Florida Governor Rick Scott arrived for an hour-long business roundtable.
But inside, there was plenty of warmth for Scott who was surrounded by a heavily partisan Republican crowd that praised the governor for his pro-business stance and for easing regulations to make it more attractive for industry to relocate to the Sunshine State.
Scott also used the occasion to promote his nearly $74.2 billion budget unveiled Wednesday.
John Mitten, franchise owner of the Brooksville Chick-fil-A, opened up the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored roundtable by touting Scott's track record in creating 280,000 jobs and lifting Florida out of a recession by not raising taxes.
The state's crime rate is at a 22-year low and unemployment is nearly half what it was when Scott took office some four years ago, Mitten said.
"This governor has surpassed all other governors when it comes to helping business," Mitten said.
Flanked on either side by Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson and Republican State Rep. Jimmie Smith, Scott told the crowd that he had to change the perception of Florida's business climate from day one on the job.
Florida, he said, was often panned as being a state more concerned with retirees and over-regulated with strict permits that discouraged industry owners from even considering the state for a start-up or expanding business.
Scott said he changed all that by loosening environmental regulations, putting money back into education so that companies had readily available skilled labor pools, giving law enforcement more tools to fight crime and make Florida more desirable to raise families and by creating more jobs.
"We weren't running our state well," Scott said.
Counties cannot prosper if it's too difficult to find a job, he said. Also, Florida was not doing a good enough job of promoting itself and cited Texas as a state where promotion has worked to benefit businesses.
"We are on a roll right now," he told the crowd of about 125 people. "Everybody's talking to us. Everybody's listening to us."
Hernando County School Superintendent Lori Romano praised Scott for a budget that builds in more money for schools. Scott has proposed raising public school spending by $542 million, which translates into a nearly 3 percent increase.
Realtor Gary Schraut said Scott cut some $100 million in taxes on commercial leases which will enable local businesses to expand and grow. Florida, he said, was the only state in the nation to impose such a tax and it was a major reason why many businesses looked elsewhere to relocate.
Scott has proposed $130 million for Everglades restoration, $25 million for beach restoration, and $55 million to help restore and improve water quality at the state's freshwater springs.
Simpson, answering a question from the crowd, patted Scott's back and said he hopes some of that restoration money finds its way to Weeki Wachee Springs. Scott smiled but didn't respond.
At the end of the roundtable, Scott urged all the business people, community leaders and elected officials in the room to do a better job of lobbying for their causes and work on recruiting new business in their own corner of the world.
For example, Scott said to contact the business people who are reluctant to come to Hernando County and find out the reasons. Travel to Tallahassee and attend legislative sessions and speak up for county concerns, such as sinkhole reform, he added.
"You've got to get involved," Scott said.