Wilton Simpson at Chamber luncheon

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, smiles while chatting with county lobbyist Gene McGee on Friday, Oct. 15, at the College of Central Florida Citrus campus prior to the start of the Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon.

Florida is open for business.

Senate President Wilton Simpson hammered home that point at least twice to the 175 people in attendance at Friday’s special Citrus County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

It was one of several remarks that brought applause from the audience. Simpson, R-Trilby, is a huge favorite in Citrus County and he got a standing ovation before his keynote speech.

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This was the chamber’s annual Salute to Business luncheon held at the College of Central Florida campus and was part of Business Appreciation Month.

The chamber pulled out all the stops, including inviting the Citrus High School band, which performed the Star Spangled Banner and other songs.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, in a video presentation, praised Citrus County for nurturing strong connections between the business community and residents which benefits the local economy.

Simpson praised Gov. Ron DeSantis for opening Florida “safely and quickly” to allow business owners to resume their lives.

“We’re talking about all the livelihoods of every business in the state,” he said.

Simpson said if the state had continued in pandemic lockdown mode any longer than it did, there would be a continued increase in mental health issues and domestic violence.

“Let Floridians be Floridians,” he said.

Simpson outlined several legislative actions from 2021 that will benefit Citrus County.

- The COVID liability bill passed in March will protect businesses from unreasonable claims and provides more liability protection.

- The online sales tax bill requires out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by Floridians, with the estimated $1 billion a year in revenue going to curb a pair of taxes on Florida businesses.

- Senate Bill 1954 enhances the state’s efforts to protect inland waterways and coastlines against sea level rise.

Simpson stressed that none of the legislative achievements would have been possible without the help of Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto.

Crystal Automotive, Motorcycle and Tractor Group President Steve Lamb asked Simpson to use his clout to do something about the years-long widening project along U.S. 19 through Homosassa that has plagued business owners.

“We’re going to take care of this U.S. 19 problem,” Simpson said.

County Commissioner Holly Davis got assurances that he would look into the needed runway expansion at the Crystal River Airport.

On the education front, Simpson said schools in Florida are some of the best anywhere and the $47,500 starting pay for teachers is the second highest in the nation.

As for jobs, Moffitt Cancer Center’s new cancer treatment and research center is scheduled to begin construction next year and will be a worldwide destination, Simpson said. Because of its proximity to Citrus County by the new Ridge Road extension, locals may be the beneficiary of some of the 10,000 jobs expected to be created, he said.

Finally, an audience member asked Simpson if he had any plans when his term-limited tenure in the Senate is over in a year.

That brought a few snickers because he announced last month he will run for state agriculture commissioner next year.

When he announced it again Friday, there was more applause.



Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com. To see more of his stories, visit  tinyurl.com/y6kb23vv.