Florida was first in, and will be last out, of the Great Recession. That’s principally because for as long as I or anyone can remember, Florida has relied almost entirely on population growth, tourism and low-paying service-sector jobs to sustain it. Unfortunately, that combination, Florida’s “same old” economic formula, will also surely handicap Florida going forward. It will spell failure for Florida in the 21st Century. Why? For one, demographers have severely cut their growth projections for Florida, all the way to the year 2050. For another, new jobs statewide are paying on average about 25 percent less than those lost to the recession.
To me, all this added up to Florida needing a new way forward. If Florida’s economy instead were fueled by innovation, if it did a better job promoting green jobs, high-tech jobs, life sciences jobs and information technology jobs, it wouldn’t be so susceptible to economic downturns, and it could actually lead in the 21st Century.
It could, if it worked harder to create these higher paying, more resilient jobs; if it generated more of the jobs that can strengthen and enrich our communities; and if it became a stronger player on the international scene. It needs, as the Brookings Institution has so persuasively argued, to encourage more companies to export.
I’m also convinced that those who principally need to drive this innovation are our rising young stars, our entrepreneurs and our small businesses, which make up more than 90 percent of all businesses in Florida.
This is why I launched FloridaNEXT Foundation: to promote and inspire this economic model, and to offer our young leaders, entrepreneurs and small businesses a vehicle they can use to drive the innovation Florida will need to succeed.Q. What have you found are the top concerns of small businesses and entrepreneurs in the state?
They’re concerned, and with good reason, that policymakers in Tallahassee and elsewhere focus far too much of their energy on luring large, out-of-state companies to Florida instead of committing themselves to nurturing our existing small businesses and growing an infrastructure that can support start-ups.
They’re concerned about the weak commitment legislators and other officials are showing to our students. The $300 million cut to higher education this year underscored that. “How can we find the skilled workforce we need,” I keep hearing from CEOs and supervisors, “if our universities don’t have the resources and money to devote to their education?”
Small businesses and entrepreneurs also say they’re concerned that investors remain hesitant about engaging new or early-stage enterprises because they fear Florida, or some particular regions in Florida, doesn’t have the skilled labor pool needed to scale or grow young companies. Q. What are some of the initiatives that you have started in South Florida and in other parts of the state?
I mentioned that our Young Leaders Forums began in Miami. This week, on the campus of UCF in Orlando, we’re holding another. Later this month, in Tampa, we’ll be holding a third. Later in the year, and into 2013, we expect to hold several more of them throughout the state. The forums look to determine what our regions specifically and Florida generally can do better to attract and retain more talented young people. FloridaNEXT then works to advance those suggestions so they may lead to changes that can help build our next generation of leaders.