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Florida's cities are on the rise

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times recently penned a fascinating column about the increasing importance of cities in determining the future of our nation. His column emanated from a new book from scholars at the Brookings Institution: “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.”

The thesis is simply that the federal government is in such disarray — “mired in partisan division and rancor” — that it gets very little accomplished. Cities, meanwhile, are practicing a growth model with a focus on “networks that combine skilled laborers and knowledge workers, with universities and technical schools, with quality infrastructure and high-speed Internet . . . for innovation,” he writes. Exactly!

My own travels during the summer bear this out — I’ve visited Destin, Daytona, DeLand, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa, Fort Myers and Palm Beach, and have planned trips to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The federal and state governments continue to supply funding for many projects, but the initiative behind the progress in these communities is local and reflects the ability of many groups to pull together.

Take transportation, a cornerstone of economic development that’s a focus of this month’s issue. Florida East Coast is developing new passenger rail service with private funds and local cooperation. And while state and federal dollars are backing an interstate connector at the Port of Tampa and a tunnel at the Port of Miami, there’s lots of innovative thinking going on at both ports about other moves that will keep the facilities competitive.

Over on the Space Coast, extraordinary local efforts to pull aerospace companies to the region have mitigated the impact of the loss of the shuttle.

Airports are preparing for a Florida with more residents (250,000 population growth is predicted each year for the next decade) and more tourists. Miami is expanding its facilities, Fort Lauderdale is building a new runway, Tampa is updating and expanding its core, and Southwest International is preparing for the Hertz influx.

Arts and entertainment are growing through local efforts. The Daytona International Speedway is being updated to 21st-century standards with $400 million in private funds. Universal and Disney are spending their own dollars on huge growth initiatives. The new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is being built mostly with money raised locally.

The Florida High Tech Corridor is another shining example of local efforts. Three major universities, USF, University of Florida and UCF start with federal research grants, but the money doesn’t just disappear into the ivory tower — the schools are spawning an increasing number of spinoff ventures in their respective communities. Local efforts and collaboration were behind the emergence of Lake Nona as a medical and research hub that’s integrating universities, private research institutions and hospitals into a network that’s supercharged by web connectivity.

State and federal money will always provide the impetus behind many local projects. We can’t forget that, but it’s also vital that we celebrate local leadership that integrates the funding with the local community’s vision of its economic future.

Bringing Hertz to southwest Florida required keen collaboration between state-level Enterprise Florida and local leaders. The tunnel to Miami’s port required both federal money and the ability of local leaders to make the project a priority. It’s a multifaceted game. We need to play together.

Fitness update: I’m definitely running three times a week and won’t let a little calf strain get in the way of the 5k Turkey Trot coming in 12 weeks. I’m on track.

— Andy Corty