Rep. Matt Gaetz says creation of 'cyber coast' in sight, but local schools need to improve
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz said he expects hundreds of cybersecurity jobs to come to Northwest Florida this year and the only thing standing in the way of creating a "cyber coast" is the local school system.
The Republican congressman who represents Northwest Florida spoke to a crowd of more than 150 people at what was officially billed as a meeting of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce at Hub Stacey's in Innerarity Point on Friday.
Gaetz got the crowd going by talking about his recent appearance on "The View" where he clashed with co-host Joy Behar, who said he answers to his "boss" President Donald Trump.
"I corrected her right there and said, 'My bosses are the folks in Northwest Florida,' " Gaetz said. "She can have any criticism she wants of me or the work I do and the defense I make of the president, but there is no ability for me to ever give an inch on the great folks that we serve here. We have the highest concentration of active duty military and veterans, in Northwest Florida and we are very proud of it."
Gaetz said that military connection is key to future economic development in the Pensacola region, with a growing number of cybersecurity jobs coming out of Naval Air Station Pensacola Corry Station and Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach.
"Every major cyber warrior in the Navy is going to go through Corry at one point or another in their career," Gaetz said. "Every major cyber warrior in the Air Force is going to go through Hurlburt at one point in their career. So, let's find those folks. Let's dip them in the emerald green water, let's get a little of that white sand in between their toes. And let's ensure that when they conclude their service, whenever that may be, that they want to make Northwest Florida their forever home."
Gaetz said attracting former military members with cybersecurity experience and educating people in that field with cybersecurity programs like those at the University of West Florida are the key to creating a "cyber coast."
"I think that we can have enduring prosperity for generations to come that is not linked to like a specific factory or a specific economic condition that could potentially change," Gaetz said.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Gaetz said that the cybersecurity field is only going to grow and he wants to increase federal investment in workforce development in cybersecurity.
"We just cut a ribbon last year at Hurlburt on a new facility to train more cyber students, and it is my expectation that in 2020, we will triple the footprint of the Department of Homeland Security in Northwest Florida," Gaetz said. "And a substantial amount of that mission will be focused on national network security efforts. That will be hundreds more jobs, and it will create demand in the workforce for the tremendous talent that we're germinating out of the University of West Florida."
Gaetz told the crowd one of the biggest roadblocks to attracting talent was the education system.
"When I meet with some of the military commanders here in Northwest Florida, they share with me that we've got to improve the schools in Escambia County," Gaetz said. "And that's not something that you know, you just blame a superintendent for, or a school board for, that means all of us."
Gaetz touted the record of his father Don Gaetz, who was superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District, before the elder Gaetz became a state senator and eventually president of the Florida Senate.
"We were at about the middle of the pack in the state," Gaetz said. "There's 67 counties. We were somewhere in the 30s, but with the type of teachers and talent we have here, with the type of parents and community leaders we have, there's no reason we shouldn't be No. 1. And Okaloosa did achieve that rating during my father's time in public service there."