By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Brian Annett has two passions in life: one is buses (his family business, Annett Bus Lines, founded by his parents, Eric and Norma Jean Annett in 1976); the other is baseball.
Born just a year earlier, in 1975, Brian Annett jokes that his father “had one year of me, and then he was ready for something else.”
“I’ve been around buses since I was a little guy,” he told the Madison Rotary Club, where he is also a member. “I had diesel in my blood.”
He is now president of Annett Bus Lines, and his brother, David, is the vice president. He speaks with genuine fondness of the family business, where his buses take people where they need to go in comfort that includes wi-fi and television, and takes pride in the motor coach industry in general, statistically noted as one of the safest (only school buses are ranked higher) and most efficient (averaging about 300 passenger miles per gallon) modes of transportation in the country.
His father, a former school teacher, began as an independent bus operator in Sebring at a time when the bus industry was heavily regulated. In fact, the only two lines operating in Florida were Trailways and Greyhound, until the industry was deregulated in the 1980s.
In 2008-09, Greyhound shut down routes going through Madison; afterward, Annett began negotiations with the county to open the Annett Bus Terminal near I-10 between Madison and Lee. The facility opened in February 2014 with a ribbon cutting ceremony, and now serves Annett’s northern customer base linking Jacksonville and Ocala, and serves as a statewide refurbishing center for the fleet, doing both restoration and scheduled maintenance.
The business, now operating more than 50 buses and employing about 100 people, has other centers in Ocala and Jacksonville and is still headquartered in Sebring, but Brian Annett and his family live in Madison.
“And it’s all because of baseball,” he said.
All his life, he has loved baseball as much as buses. It was baseball that brought him to Madison, where he played for the NFCC baseball team. It was as a college student in Madison that he met the Bass family, who became lifelong friends, and it was at NFCC that he met his wife, Christi. When the small town of Sebring was no longer quite so small, it was Madison that came to mind when he sought that small town atmosphere he remembered from his own childhood, and when all the right circumstances came together, he knew he wanted to move his family to Madison and open the new bus center in Madison County.
In addition to servicing the fleet, the Madison Center, which started out with six employees and now has 15, is working on local tour packages and a charter operation for businesses, church groups, community groups and school field trips. They also have bus centers in other states throughout the country, and work with other bus lines. No matter where anyone wants to travel, even if Annett doesn’t have a bus going there, they can book the traveler on another bus that will get him to his destination.
He loves being in Madison, the same kind of small town he grew up in, a town where he and Christi are firm supporters of the public school system their children Abi and Drew attend.
“Sometimes, we have to knock ourselves to figure out how we came to be so blessed,” he told the audience.
And it’s all because of baseball.