Thinking Big for Florida
Florida's public policy-makers must recognize that mega-regions are the engines of the new global economy. They must support Florida's mega-region -- the 15th largest in the world.
The Florida Mega-Region
So what makes the Florida mega- region tick? Each component of the Florida mega has its own personality and makes a different economic and creative contribution, but obviously the Big Three are Miami, Orlando and Tampa, which together generate more than 40% of gross state product (GSP).
In terms of the creative economy, Miami’s strengths include its roles as a center for Latin American business operations and finance and for fashion, design and Latin television, film and music. (Slightly to the north, Fort Lauderdale’s tourism and marine industry-based economy contributes another 10% of GSP.)
There is also considerable capacity in arts and entertainment technology in Orlando — called Hollywood East by some and home, of course, to Disney World, a major incubator for pop culture. Probably best known for its tourism and convention trade, Orlando was nominated by BusinessWeek as a global “hot spot” for innovation in 2006. Other important sectors for the region include: Defense, engineering and the largest modeling, simulation and training cluster in the U.S. The University of Central Florida is the nation’s sixth-largest and the anchor for the neighboring Central Florida Research Park.
Over on the Gulf coast, Tampa has the nation’s seventh-largest port and ninth-largest university — the University of South Florida. An important local development group, the Tampa Bay Partnership, identifies five key industry clusters for the region — avionics, defense and marine electronics; business and information services; biomedical and life sciences; port and maritime; and manufacturing. With the Creative Tampa Bay program, the city has aggressively adopted a creative industry agenda and developed initiatives to attract and retain young people. (Interestingly, when it comes to social diversity, Tampa has the fifth-highest proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of major metro areas in the U.S.)
Florida’s High-Tech Corridor, a 23-county area that runs from Tampa to the Space Coast on the Atlantic, houses thousands of creative companies in fields ranging from aviation and aerospace to microelectronics and optics to medical technologies.
Other highlights within the mega include Gainesville (home to the University of Florida — the nation’s second-largest); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville (the Space Coast — site of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and a multitude of defense and high-tech companies); and Palm Beach (another emerging high-tech center).
Tallahassee lies a little beyond the light-defined borders of the mega but is intimately connected to it through trade, politics and economic development. It is also home to the graduate research-focused Florida State University, one of the state system’s flagships. For the past year, my Creative Class Group has been involved with the Knight Creative Communities Initiative in an innovative effort to foster the creative environment in Tallahassee and to attract and retain young professionals. The success of that initiative to date and the Creative Tampa Bay program demonstrates how such community-driven efforts can make a big difference.
In my own Creativity Index for U.S. regions with more than 1 million people, West Palm Beach (23), Tampa (26), Miami (29), Orlando (32) and Jacksonville (37) all rank in the top 40. Melbourne makes the top 10 for regions between 250,000 and 500,000 people, and Gainesville comes in at No. 2 for regions with fewer than 250,000 people.
But, of course, the key point about these creative centers is their collective power, and this is what makes the Florida mega-region a global player.