He predicts Zephyrhills will reap benefits
By B.C. Manion
Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford predicts the satellite campus in Wesley Chapel for financial services giant Raymond James will have a tremendous ripple effect.
“It’s going to change the game,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said during a May 24 morning chat over coffee at the Golden Corral in Zephyrhills.
“They’re going to start construction this fall,” Weatherford said. “They’re going to build up to somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million square feet eventually there. That’s massive.”
Weatherford told the crowd of about 40 that opportunities and jobs should open up for residents throughout the area.
Before fielding questions at the event hosted by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, Weatherford outlined some of the state’s difficulties and strengths.
“We have gone through probably the most challenging time that the state of Florida has ever had, it has almost been unparalleled except for the Great Depression,” Weatherford said.
“When I got elected in 2006, the unemployment rate was 4 percent. Four years later, it was 12 percent. We are seeing those numbers come back down. We’re now back down to about 9.5,” he said.
There are other challenges, too.
“Fifty percent of all Floridians are underwater in their mortgages still. That is a very staggering number,” he said. “By the way, I could be one of those people.
“We are now spending more money on Medicaid in the state of Florida than we spend on education, for the first time ever. That means we’re spending more money on healthcare for people who can’t afford it, who are below the poverty line, than we’re spending on investing in the next generation of our students and our kids. That’s a problem,” Weatherford added.
Most of the state’s unemployed are people without a high school diploma, Weatherford said. And, when those people are working, they command considerably lower salaries than their counterparts with college degrees.
“The link between the jobs and our economy and our talent pool are so closely parallel, there’s nothing more important for the future of our state – and where we’re going – than the infrastructure in our education system.
“The top 10 jobs in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004. None of them,” he said, so education is critical to meet the changing demands of the workplace.
Despite Florida’s challenges, Weatherford remains optimistic about its future. Some states are raising taxes, borrowing money and losing population, Weatherford said. Not Florida. It balances its budget every year and it’s growing.
“Today, in the state of Florida, 350 people are moving here every day,” Weatherford said. “At the boom, it was 1,200. On the low end, two years ago, it was about 30 people a day.”
Weatherford said the book “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, reflects his political philosophy.
“There’s a part in that book where there’s this place called Atlantis, where all of the entrepreneurs go to because they’re basically being pushed out. Government is killing their business with regulations and taxes and they’re able to find solace in a new place,” he said.
Weatherford said he wants Florida to be the place people come when they can’t afford to live in California or New York, or find the environment to be too burdensome for their businesses in Michigan or Ohio.
After speaking, he fielded questions.
Beverly Ledbetter, an adjunct instructor at Saint Leo University, asked about the heavy emphasis on the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), which she said produces “cookie-cutter teaching” and “cookie-cutter students.” She wants the state to invest more in education and emphasize creative thinking.
Weatherford said he favors phasing out the FCAT, which he characterized as a high-stakes, one-time exam, in favor of end-of-course exams. Assessments are needed, he said, to make sure the state gets a return on its investment and that students improve.
Rachel Rigsby Lare, of Rigsby’s Auto Salvage, suggested an internship program for adults on unemployment to give them new job skills. Weatherford liked the idea and asked her to send him more details.