Florida can lay the foundation on which to build a prosperous economic future | Opinion

WalletHub recently named Miami the No. 3 best large city in America to start a business.
WalletHub recently named Miami the No. 3 best large city in America to start a business. Getty Images

We may be located in the southernmost corner of the state, but there is no doubt that South Florida is at the center of the action driving Florida’s economy. All of us who live and work in the region want to keep it that way, but we cannot assume that population growth and tourism will carry us through forever.

Together Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are home to three out of every 10 Floridians. Our population surged by 10 percent during the past decade, yet we managed to create so many jobs that the region’s unemployment rate is half as much — or better — than it was at the end of the recession. Recent Census figures may show that growth isn’t as rapid as it once was, but it’s still charging forward every day.

There all is good news, but there is a built-in danger here: Tourism and growth, which drive a great deal of the local economy, are heavily dependent on a good economy and forgiving hurricane seasons. The time has come for Florida to broaden its economic base once and for all, so we can withstand such ups and downs.

The Florida Council of 100 has released Project Sunrise, a detailed economic analysis that shows where we are, but, more important, lays out a series of recommendations for how we can take the Sunshine State to another level. The report focuses on strategies designed to make Florida a national and global leader as a place where talent thrives best.

South Florida has a strong foundation to build on. WalletHub just named Miami the No. 3 best large city in America to start a business, and said it has the most startups per 100,000 residents. But the key will be to move toward a greater reliance on “tradeable” sectors, ones that sell goods or services that can easily be sent elsewhere. This is especially significant for a region of 6 million people that serves as the gateway to the hemisphere.

More than most areas, South Florida knows how vulnerable we can be to everything from the next economic downturn to the next major hurricane. Project Sunrise provides specific strategies and recommendations for South Florida, including:

Leverage the region’s high concentration of top-ranked hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, research centers and universities to grow research and development and innovation clusters.

Boost export and finance activity to take advantage of South Florida’s place among the most connected regions in the flow of international residents.

Establish a business marketing effort to complement Visit Florida’s tourism marketing — a world-class marketing engine to execute data-driven branding strategies and build on South Florida’s reputation as a global hub for commerce.

Florida has a place as a global economic leader, and nowhere is this more a part of daily life than in South Florida. But to stay that way, we will need to diversify our economy and train the workers with the skills needed for future jobs. The Council of 100’s Project Sunrise provides a GPS to show the way, and community leaders and the public should take a look at bit.ly/Project_Sunrise to see how they can help the region secure a strong and vibrant economic future.

Rodney Barreto, president and CEO of The Barreto Group, Inc., is a member of the Florida Council of 100.