Business Monday

Florida’s legislators must act on economy and education, CEOs say

DONNA ABOOD is principal and managing director of Avison Young, a global commercial real-estate firm.
DONNA ABOOD is principal and managing director of Avison Young, a global commercial real-estate firm.

This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: What one issue would you most like Florida legislators to act upon and what would you like to see done?


It is imperative that we continue to market Florida as a business destination throughout the U.S. and around the world so we may attract companies that create jobs, contribute to economic diversification, and pay high wages to our residents. However, there have been efforts by some Florida legislators to eliminate certain state economic development strategies, such as Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, as well as performance-based incentives used to attract businesses. If Florida legislators take action to eliminate particular avenues that support economic improvement, we are sending a message to corporate site selectors on behalf of companies considering expanding into Florida that our state is “closed for business.”

Donna Abood, principal and managing director, Avison Young


HB 319 and SB 410, A/K/A the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act. Like all women’s rights issues, the quest for equal pay has been a long journey. While women have historically been compensated less than male colleagues, there have been attempts to correct this injustice, dating all the way back to the 1870s. Women are still only earning about 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. It’s time to put an end to the pay disparities between men and women, and write these protections into law, and into the lives of women in Florida.

Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida


It is becoming cliché to implore our elected officials to address our public transportation infrastructure needs. However, there remains too much unfinished legislative work that must be done. I would like to see legislation passed that makes it easier for communities to implement multi-modal transportation strategies through more flexible funding formulas and P3 investment. Also, notwithstanding the current makeup of the Florida legislature, at some point, courageous civilized leadership must prevail to address the abomination that the "Stand Your Ground" law has become, both as written and as applied. How many more people, guilty of absolutely nothing, must be killed by those using the “Stand Your Ground” law as a pretext to murder them before those sworn to serve the public good stop legalizing these killings?

Albert E. Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg


Memorial Healthcare System is a Safety Net provider. One issue I would recommend needs attention is the reduction of healthcare funding, particularly for Safety Net healthcare systems that provide access to care, regardless of ability to pay, to many residents with no other financial alternatives or means. Reduction of healthcare funding represents a true financial challenge, creating a financial burden on the institutions that cover disproportionate care in their communities.

Aurelio M. Fernandez, III, president and CEO, Memorial Healthcare System


The education of our students, our future leaders and workforce, is the most significant issue that needs to be acted upon by Florida legislators. Research conducted by the Council for Educational Change illustrates the importance of effective school leadership. We have found that 40 percent of the students’ academic performance is directly tied to the leadership at the school. We need to provide resources to attract and retain, incentivize, and invest in the preparation of effective school leaders and teachers. We need to ensure that students graduate ready to pursue advanced studies resulting in their career choice, and/or are sufficiently prepared with the necessary employment skills to enter the workforce. Empowering school leaders leads to empowered students to become productive members of our community.

Elaine Liftin, president and executive director, Council for Educational Change


To build a “bridge” to Cuba. Florida has much to gain from being first to develop this connection that already existed in the pre-Revolution era. By opening the economic promise of a nation that essentially needs to rebuild many sectors, this will mean job growth for our state and communities, distinct opportunity for new business (for small, medium and large firms) and long-term affiliation to this Caribbean nation and its people.

Diego Lowenstein, CEO, Lionstone Development


I’m happy to support the effort by City of Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert in his support of the Calder decoupling issue currently in front of the Florida Legislature. Calder Race Course now sits on a major commercial thoroughfare that could be unlocked for major redevelopment if decoupling passes, allowing the development of a large tract of land that would make room for Miami Gardens to finally build a space where residents could come to eat, shop and play. This entertainment-based infrastructure is greatly needed so residents can circulate their dollars and create jobs in their own community and enjoy themselves in the process. Miami Gardens is the largest black city in Florida with 112,000 residents and they have been very intentional about supporting black-owned businesses and creating economic opportunities that strengthen our Miami-Dade business economy.

Suzan McDowell, president and CEO, Circle of One Marketing


The Florida legislators must continue to identify innovative ways to address transportation challenges. There is a gridlock on access to other regions in Florida and it is difficult to travel to other areas such as Orlando with ease. There is a prime opportunity to look at other well-developed major metropolitan areas, nationally and overseas, to possibly implement some of their logistics.

Dr. Larry Rice, president, Johnson & Wales University North Miami Campus


There are so many issues, but naturally, I am drawn to children’s issues. The majority of juvenile crime is committed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Therefore, we need to see additional resources put into after-school programs that keep children engaged in productive activities such as sports and education. The average cost for such programs is between $2,000 to $3,000 per child vs. the cost of juvenile detention, which is in excess of $50,000 annually. Prevention is a much better deal than intervention.

Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade


Rail opponents from the Treasure Coast are targeting the expansion of passenger rail in Florida by introducing “The High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.” This unconstitutional and federally preempted bill will jeopardize private property rights and is illegally targeting a single company. Everyone in Florida who has an interest in expanding transportation options should be concerned. Legislators should be focused on passing legislation that creates jobs, not stifling the investment of private capital into a much-needed transportation alternative.

Vincent Signorello, president and chief executive officer, Florida East Coast Industries


There is current legislature to defund Visit Florida. Tourism is one of the largest revenue producers for the state. Cutting its budget significantly will reduce our state’s ability to compete globally for the lucrative international traveler. Other states will gain from the short-sighted direction of Florida’s Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran.

John Tanzella, president and CEO, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association


The push to eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida is sending a dangerous message that Florida legislators don’t see the value in staying competitive with other states when it comes to recruiting new companies, creating jobs and promoting tourism. Investments in business development and tourism are part of the lifeblood of Florida’s economy and we can’t afford to lose our competitive edge. Likewise, Senate Bill No. 2 would restore full funding for Bright Futures scholarships that reward academic performance in high school. These funds are critical to incentivizing talent to stay in-state for college, putting them in a more likely position to join the Florida workforce upon graduating.

Faith Read Xenos, co-founding partner, Singer Xenos


The Miami Herald CEO Roundtable is a weekly feature that appears in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. Recent questions have included:

▪ Most CEOs provide paid internships, and everyone benefits

▪ Local firms rich in generational immigrants, CEO say, but deportation efforts worry some

▪ Long hours at the office? CEOs say how they avoid burnout

▪ CEOs prefer balance when dealing with a defiant employee

▪ The most important issue facing South Florida this year? CEOs say it’s traffic

▪ Have you been to Cuba? CEOs discuss business and travel opportunities on the island

▪ CEOs discuss their resolutions for the New Year

▪ CEOs: Trump, ugly politics among the biggest surprises of 2016

▪ CEOs’ top request for Trump’s first 100 days: ‘Unity’

▪ CEOs won’t tolerate ugly comments in the workplace

▪ CEOs assess South Florida’s economy for 2017

▪ Did Obamacare hurt your business? South Florida CEOs respond