ST. PETERSBURG — As Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney argued the nation's jobs market remained in crisis, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday praised Tampa Bay's chief executives for helping turn the economy around.
"In the last 24 months, you have taken our unemployment rate from one of the highest in the country … to, you now have (250,000) to 300,000 job openings every month in this state," Scott said.
"Exports are up. Home prices are up. New home sales are up. Construction's going up. … We're winning all the awards now," he said. "What you have done by building businesses, you've changed people's lives."
Scott spoke at the Mahaffey Theater for a luncheon of the CEO Council of Tampa Bay. Council members must lead companies with more than 25 employees and revenue of more than $3 million.
Scott's speech marks only his latest divide from the less rosy take of presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who asserts that President Barack Obama's policies have kept the economy in tatters.
A report last week showed the nation's unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent, the first drop below 8 percent since early 2009.
And Florida's unemployment rate, 8.8 percent in August, has fallen faster over the past 21 months than any other state, a fact Scott has said gives "every reason to brag."
But Scott's message of triumph over unemployment, economists said, misses the biggest cause of that drop: thousands of prospective workers who stopped looking for work.
About 514,000 workers, more than half of Florida's unemployed, have been looking for jobs for six months or more, a Florida International University study released last month shows.
Scott left the downtown theater about 1 p.m. to travel to North Miami, where his schedule said he would announce a grant for teacher training.
The theater sits about a mile from the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, where vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan prepared this week to question the nation's economic strength during his debate Thursday against Vice President Joe Biden.