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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Port of Fernandina in Fernandina, Florida


Thank you, Laura, for that kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be with all of you here at the Port of Fernandina. Thank you to the kind people of Nassau County for such a warm welcome.

We are also honored to have with us your Representative in the U.S. Congress. Congressman John Rutherford has joined me today, and we are both very pleased to be here.

This town is a gem. Don’t worry — I won’t tell anyone else from New York how great it is, but I think it’s already been discovered.

We meet today at an important and historic place. The deep-water port here on Amelia Island has been used by traders for hundreds of years. As early Florida was developed, this port was the gateway to the future — the future of discovery, business opportunity, and the fulfillment of entrepreneurial dreams.

This port connects the great state of Florida to the Intercoastal Waterway, the Eastern Seaboard, and to the rest of the world. Early developers and railway owners, like Henry Flagler, navigated through this port as they built the foundation of an economic powerhouse.

Today, the Port of Fernandina still holds significant promise for the future development of Florida and America.

I am delighted that 69.4% of your cargos are exports – I wish some of the bigger ports could say the same. And the Port’s application to the Marine Highway Program—intended to promote short-sea coastal cargo by barge, between Fernandina and Savannah—strikes me as a very creative idea.

After the turmoil and economic despair of the 2008 financial system collapse, Florida is staging a remarkable recovery.

This state, which I proudly call home, has experienced an economic rebirth that is lifting the fortunes of companies, their workers, and hundreds of communities throughout the Sunshine State.

Florida’s economy is truly phenomenal. 

The state’s GDP now exceeds $1 trillion. If Florida was a country, it would have the seventeenth largest economy in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Argentina.
Tourism is thriving.

Florida is the top travel destination in the world. The state drew 126 million out-of-state visitors in 2018, setting a record for the eighth consecutive year. And you take very good care of your guests.

The Trump Administration has been hard at work creating conditions that enable economic growth not only in Florida but throughout the country.

We have done so by changing our tax code so that it is competitive with our foreign rivals. The new tax code includes incentives for U.S. industry to re-invest in American manufacturing by providing companies with accelerated expensing of new equipment and 100 percent bonus depreciation.

We have also created an “Opportunity Zones” program to support new and small businesses investing in economically distressed communities. Florida has already designated 427 Opportunity Zones in the state, ensuring that each county has at least one. An Opportunity Zone lies just a few miles away in Yulee.

The program is already attracting investors, new businesses, and job creators to low-income communities, helping them grow their local economies and strengthening their workforce.

Beyond the tax code, we are also removing burdensome regulations that deter companies from expanding their U.S. operations and hiring American workers.

We are rethinking decades of trade policy, by standing up for the interests of U.S.-based producers. And we are putting a halt to foreign governments targeting our industries by dumping subsidized products into our markets.

As you know, we’ve negotiated a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that will bring production and jobs back to the United States. The USMCA gives American producers and farmers greater access to the Mexican and Canadian markets. There are new rules requiring minimum levels of U.S. content in automobiles, as well as competitive wage rates that will benefit American workers.

And we are negotiating with China as we speak. We know that the retaliatory tariffs placed on American exports have been harmful to many of our producers, but we hope to finally put an end to Chinese trade practices that have injured so many of our industries, workers, and communities.

We are seeing beneficial results from all of these efforts.

Today, the U.S. unemployment rate stands at only 3.8 percent. In Florida, the unemployment rate is an impressively low 3.4 percent.
Since January of 2017, Florida has added almost 500,000 new jobs, with job growth exceeding 27 percent. But with this growth, we are experiencing a unique set of problems that need to be addressed. These, I might say, are good problems to have, but they risk derailing the progress we are making.

While there are 6 million people unemployed in the United States, there are 7.1 million jobs that remain unfilled. Companies cannot find enough workers with the skills needed for the available jobs.

We in the Trump Administration are engaged in a comprehensive effort to make sure our growing and innovative companies can hire skilled workers. Ivanka Trump and I co-chair the National Council for the American Worker, and we are implementing strategies to rejuvenate our workforce.

Please, tell the youngsters in your life that there are great career opportunities for them if they get the right skill sets.

Yesterday, I enjoyed visiting Governor DeSantis and other senior state officials at the Florida Capitol. We talked about the immense opportunities for the state of Florida.

Through our partnership, we are coordinating on economic development, enabling Florida to connect its key industries and producers to the global economy. And we can help rural counties learn how to export their products and not their jobs.

Today, I saw firsthand a great example of this opportunity. I met with business leaders at Rayonier Timber’s new world headquarters.

Rayonier, the fourth largest timber operator in the world, boasts over 2.5 million acres of timberlands. And it continues investing to make Nassau County home. It repositioned 24,000 acres of its prime timberland in central Nassau County to create a premier mixed-use community in Northeast Florida. When fully built out, the project will have an estimated 20,000 rooftops and over 11 million square feet of non-residential space.

The business investment in this region will lead to more jobs, more cost-affordable housing for workers, and more commerce moving through Opportunity Zones.

And the little port behind us serves as the crown jewel — or intermodal hub — for exporting Northeast Florida Timber and other products to China and the rest of the world. It helps Rayonier with some of its $336.0 million in exports leaving the U.S.—3.1 million tons.

A catalyst for the first railroad activity in Florida, the Port of Fernandina is finding creative ways to remain competitive in the global commerce equation.  

You are taking advantage of your proximity to the big ports up and down the Southeast Coast, and your access to exporters located in the region. 

Your port might have a small footprint, but it is mighty in prowess!

And it is creatively spearheading a model of providing new and efficient services that relieve the burden on our already overtaxed infrastructure.

Florida’s future is bright. 

From timber to tourism, from the seas to space, the diversity of business and your embrace of innovation make this state’s prospects very bright. Trade volumes continue to grow, and we in the U.S. government want to make sure that the full containers coming into our ports are not leaving empty.

We want American manufacturers to be filling those containers with high-value added goods that are made by Americans in America.

That is our challenge and our charge.

We are achieving success by working together.

Thank you for having me. I wish you all the best in growing your economy and your community by utilizing the assets that you are fortunate to have right here.