Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV received a guided tour Wednesday morning of Brooksville's Cemex Cement Plant, talking to managers and shaking hands with well-wishers gathered for the media event.
Mack, representing Florida's 14th Congressional District, kept to a tight schedule. He stayed for about an hour, allowed about three minutes for reporters' questions and took off for his next appointment.
But while he was there, Mack vowed to fight for companies such as Cemex, which, he said, is being strangled by crippling U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulations.
Locked in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate, Mack said it is time to release business from the bondage of EPA bureaucracy and let free enterprise reign.
"We're hopeful this plant gets back to capacity soon," Mack said.
Cemex was forced to take offline one of its two cement kilns in early 2009 because of the downturn in the economy. The other kiln is operating at about 60 percent capacity, said Steve Bassler, the cement plant's continuous improvement manager.
Cemex Communications Director Sara Engdahl said the Florida cement industry was especially hard-hit by the economy and forced the layoff of employees.
Cemex's county operations now employ 250 people. Nationwide, the company employs about 2,000 people.
Engdahl said Mack was invited to get a first-hand look at the scope of operations and to impress upon him the need for jobs.
"We rely on candidates who are pro-business and will help us grow throughout this economy," Engdahl said.
She said she hopes Mack learns how vital the cement industry is "for the infrastructure of Florida and for Florida's growth."
Engdahl called the job losses in the cement industry at "historic lows."
"We're coming out of some of our toughest times in the industry," she said.
Mack used the event to criticize Nelson, who he said is promoting policies that stifle business growth and job creation.
Mack attributes his recent good showing in the polls to a positive performance this month during the debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Mack said he would be willing to attend a debate later this month with Nelson.
"He's voted for higher taxes 150 times," Mack said of Nelson. "I'd like to see how he explains that one."