An In-Depth Look at Florida's Capital
[Photo: Ray Stanyard]
Once, it would have sufficed to paint Tallahassee as the seat of state government, nestled amid the state’s rural, less affluent northern tier with its traditional southern demographics and small-town political dynamics.
And it’s still true that government — one in three workers in Tallahassee is a federal, state or local government employee — likely will dominate the city’s economy for the immediate future, but there’s more afoot these days. Growing awareness of the role higher education institutions like Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College can play in driving economic development is creating a new dynamic in the city’s business community, which is moving to capitalize on the energy and resources created by having three state schools, their faculty and more than 60,000 students concentrated within a few square miles.
Economic developers are trying to leverage that human capital — and the area’s livability — to target high-value sectors like alternative energy, aviation, information technology and research services. Alone, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU is a unique asset that’s responsible for attracting at least one cutting-edge manufacturing firm, Danfoss Turbocor, a Danish manufacturer of high-tech air-conditioning compressors. In addition, the availability of a technically skilled workforce has helped give Tallahassee a substantial defense footprint — employees at a General Dynamics plant make electronic units for Abrams tanks and Bradley vehicles — and a savvy, progressive healthcare sector.
The business community also is moving to develop the city’s tourism infrastructure, notably sports-related tourism, and market the area’s history and natural resources. Economic developers have embraced regionalism with a visioning effort that even reaches across the nearby state line to encompass Thomas and Grady counties in Georgia.
Meanwhile, local governments have shown a progressive streak: Last year, the county closed the landfill, with almost 100% of the solid waste stream going to a recycling company. The city, after a struggle, has successfully converted a once-contaminated area south of the Capitol, integrating a stormwater management system with a 12-acre urban park.
Challenges remain. A 25% poverty rate in the city embodies the gap between the city’s haves and have-nots. Old Southern racial dynamics persist. Aside from the poverty rate, the city’s biggest obstacle to growing its non-government economy is transportation, particularly air service.
But there is a growing awareness that Tallahassee can be more ambitious economically than serving as a home for state government. It’s affordable, it has charm and history, and if it can build enough of an economic base to have more jobs available locally for the bright minds that pass through its schools, it can build a smart, modern economy that could alter the economic dynamics of the entire region.
South Adams Street [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
|A Community Portrait of Tallahassee