Time and again, we have seen South Florida lose when our counties compete, rather than collaborate, in seeking dollars or support for key issues. But now, there is an appetite to change and a means to achieve the goal. The South Florida Business Council (SFBC) was created earlier this year to capitalize on this momentum and help our region better compete locally and nationally.
The SFBC is a strategic partnership among the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. These three groups, whose members represent almost 1 million employees, are the voice of business in South Florida. They have set aside any competitive obstacles and agreed to use their collective resources to address South Florida’s critical regional issues. The rationale is clear:
- County lines are blurred for our workforce. Hundreds of thousands live in one county and work in another. Issues such as cost-efficient transportation and housing are at the top of everyone’s wish list.
- Man-made borders are irrelevant on issues like sea-level rise.
- We are fighting for our fair share of dollars. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are ranked by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 respectively in terms of GDP in the state, equaling $315.2 billion. Yet we send more dollars to Tallahassee than we get back.
- Adapt or be left behind. The success of regional partnerships elsewhere in Florida and across the nation serves as a model — and a warning. The model is clear: Counties acting as a region are stronger together. The warning is just as clear: Competing among ourselves for dollars, projects, businesses and residents fuels inefficiencies, reduces impact and allows other regions to beat us in the halls of government. Collaborating as a region greatly improves our chances for success. We saw the proof in the recent Amazon HQ bid as the South Florida regional entry made it to the finals.
While recognizing the need is a great first step, how do we help our three counties play better in the sandbox?
First, the SFBC will serve as a convener offering a safe and neutral space. We’ve already hosted the three top transportation leaders in the region in a solutions-oriented session to improve regional mobility and come away with actionable next steps.
Second, we must walk before we run and stay focused. The SFBC created a Top Five Watch List that prioritized issues based on contributed thoughts and input from the individual chambers and civic leaders. Find the list at www.SoFloBusinesscouncil.com.
Our priorities include:
- Mobility/transportation: Longer commute times have a direct effect on the economy through decreased worker productivity, delays in shipping and dissuading outside companies from relocating, to name just a few challenges.
- Education quality: Education is the building block of economic development.
- Water management: Sea-level rise, flooding, water management, beach health — the list of issues around this critical resource is long and complex.
- Workforce/affordable housing: South Florida is the nation’s 12th most expensive metro area. Addressing this issue also offers a value-added impact of reducing stress on transportation systems by eliminating commutes.
- Tourism growth: While South Florida’s economy continues to diversify, tourism still has a significant direct and indirect economic impact on our region.
We will keep a spotlight on these issues, speaking with one voice as we generate solutions and fight for the state and federal support we deserve. The SFBC lets us carry a bigger stick, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
Christine Barney is chair of the South Florida Business Council and CEO of rbb Communications. Jack Seiler is SFBC chair-elect and founding partner, Seiler, Sautter, Zaden, Rimes & Wahlbrink. Joseph Chase is SFBC chair-elect designee and shareholder, Gunster.