April 23, 2014

Corner Office

Getting Back on Track

Lynda Keever | 3/1/2009

As the state struggles with its highest unemployment rate in 16 years and a housing market staggering under the weight of 300,000 unsold homes, it’s obvious that we need to make big changes.

Lynda Keever
Lynda Keever,
Group Publisher

[Photo: Shems Hamilton]

A statewide poll conducted for the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows that more than half of Floridians think the state is headed down the wrong track, while jobs and the economy are labeled the top tasks facing Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature.

The survey results were released at the end of the chamber’s Capitol Days program, in which business leaders called for supplementing Florida’s economy by making the state less reliant on growth and tourism and directed more toward fostering talent. The effort is aimed at creating a workforce to meet the high-tech, high-wage jobs expected to dominate the 21st-century economy.

Survey results found that 34% of voters believe that the economy is the most important issue. On balancing the budget, 55% of respondents say that the Legislature should cut spending, while only 25% say leaders should raise taxes to keep programs and services.

“The game has changed,” said Mark Wilson, the chamber’s president. “Compared to the other 49 states, Florida is unique in that we are not only in a recession, but Florida is also in a massive economic transition.”

For the first time, Enterprise Florida and the Council of 100 joined forces with the chamber to advocate for an economic recovery and transition plan. Leaders of the three organizations presented their recommendations to the Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy in January and to the House Economic Development and Community Affairs Policy Council in early February. It is an agenda that all three organizations and their members are behind, and their recommendations cover the six drivers for business recovery: Talent, innovation, infrastructure, business climate, governance and quality of life.

“Our economy will never be the way it was,” said Susan Story, Gulf Power president and chair of the Florida Council of 100. “We have to come up with some out-of-the-box solutions.”

Some of those solutions include:

  • Extending state and local permits and approvals for three years to allow credit-strained companies to continue projects.
  • Suspending for four years growth management regulations requiring that school and road construction coincide with development projects.
  • Shielding from potentially millions of dollars in budget cuts programs aimed at luring businesses to Florida, including the qualified targeted incentives, quick-action closing fund and high-impact performance incentives.

Marshall Criser III, chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and president of AT&T Florida, said such state investment also does a lot to attract outside business. “We have to show that Florida is willing to invest in itself,” he said. “True economic recovery comes from creating a healthy business climate to attract high-wage jobs and talent.”

As the newly elected vice chairman of Enterprise Florida, Allan Bense, former Florida House Speaker, is just starting out on a two-year term at the helm of the state’s primary economic development organization. He knows the challenges ahead and is certainly up to the task.

“We can’t panic and focus on the short term,” Bense said. “Economic growth is supposed to be long term. Right now we need to focus on workforce development, engineering and information technology jobs and take care of our existing businesses.”

That’s the right track to take.

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