As a new governor and Cabinet begin their work for the next four years and the state Legislature convenes in Tallahassee, the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald are relaunching the Florida Influencers Series in an effort to engage Florida’s leaders and continue a thoughtful discussion on policy issues facing the Sunshine State.
The Influencers are 50 leaders from a variety of fields, ranging from the aerospace industry to hospital leadership, LGBTQ and faith communities as well as community activists.
This new class of Influencers includes key players such as Frank DiBello, the president and CEO of Space Florida; Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation; Karen Arnold, the chief operating officer for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; Catherine Stempien, president of Duke Energy Florida; and Barron Channer, CEO of the Woodwater Group.
We asked them: What is the most pressing issue facing Florida this year?
As expected, the responses were as diverse as the field of Influencers.
While the issue of gun violence stood as one of the key issues during last year’s Influencers Series — the project came on the heels of the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting — this year’s list of responses repeatedly turned back to economic inequality, environmental concerns and workforce training, among others.
“Economic inequality is Florida’s most pressing issue,” argued Channer. “It robs our community of the full talents and engagement of a large portion of our residents. Our ability to solve other major issues is diminished by not having all hands and minds at the table.”
For Arnold, improving transportation options and affordable housing will help build Florida’s businesses.
“As the diversity of our nation, state, and region continues to increase, there must be a heightened focus on ensuring that all business owners have the ability to overcome barriers to grow their business. These barriers often include limited access to capital, key decision makers and information,’’ Arnold said. “Minority businesses are also impacted by core issues such as access to education, an acceptable transit system and affordable housing.’’
For DiBello, the pressing issue is capitalizing on the high-tech boom in Florida by creating a sort of farm system for students to learn advanced manufacturing skills.
“Florida is a dynamic and rapidly changing state that is not only continuing its trend as a highly desirable choice for millions of citizens making quality of life decisions about where to live, but is also emerging as a premier location for next generation high-technology and manufacturing companies seeking an ideal environment to locate and thrive in,” he said.
For Eikenberg, it’s preventing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and an impending “water crisis” by quickly funding and constructing an Everglades reservoir.
“Florida faces a water crisis that jeopardizes our multi-billion dollar tourism, hospitality and recreational fishing business and is having a grave impact on coastal real estate,” Eikenberg said.
See the complete list of Influencers and their key issues here.
“Our inaugural project created thoughtful, nonpartisan conversations about solutions to Florida’s most pressing problems,” said Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués González. “This second class of Influencers will carry forward that work and keep our leaders talking about the policy proposals that will drive change in our communities and our state.”
The Miami Herald is also asking you, our readers, what issues you care most about this election season. Give us your initial thoughts and we’ll be asking you, along with our Influencers, about the state’s problems and getting your thoughts on solutions — all year long.