Q: Why do you feel Florida is not commonly ranked among the nation’s top business regions? What do you feel can be done to improve the state’s reputation and business atmosphere?
The Florida economy is driven by tourism, agriculture, paper, drugs, hurricanes, and retirement. Those attributes may not be high on the list of requirements for companies looking to relocate. We are also plagued by the perception that Florida is in the Bubba Belt. We have some rural communities that may fit that description, but Jacksonville is comprised of many transplants from other parts of the country, and Jacksonville natives are hard to find. Florida’s reputation will improve as more and more people see what is happening here, but only up to a point. My friends who moved here from the West agree that Florida doesn’t quite measure up.
Here in Tampa we think Florida is going to emerge as a major center for international trade as U.S. businesses make further strides toward exchange with Latin America. Miami garners a lot of publicity as our state’s center for trade with the Caribbean and Latin America. In addition, Tampa Bay’s first-rate airport and deep water seaports look like viable hubs for increased contact and trade between the Southern states and some Central American and South American regions. We also have a great mix of cultural influences and multilingual support for making international trade an important part of our region’s economic life.
In addition, venture capital seems like a chicken and egg situation in Florida. If there’s not much demand from the business community, we’re not going to attract venture capital groups but, if we don’t attract venture capital groups, then we’re going to continue to be hindered in our growth. I’d like to find out how this problem was addressed in Silicon Valley, Austin, and the Research Triangle Park. Florida is a big place and with very scattered regions. It’s not like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or the Baltimore-Washington corridor, which are tightly knit. Outside of Florida, it’s difficult to get a sense of what we stand for because there are really a lot of different personalities and communities. Florida must keep diversity from becoming a hindrance and instead use it to the state’s advantage.
I think Florida is doing rather well considering a number of factors. First, the state is essentially an island. It never had the intersection of road and rail around which towns become cities and then cities become regional economic powers.
Geography is a factor as well. Without oil or access to coal, Florida never had the natural resources and related industries that traditionally supported regional hubs like Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh.
Education is another factor. Florida is making great strides to improve the public school education. It has a highly lauded community college system, and a network of quality state universities. Elementary and high schools are not often ranked high, but rankings can lack reality.
Also, Florida is big in agribusiness — cattle, fruit, and vegetables — and, obviously, tourism. Its huge construction industry has furnished the Atlantic Coast and much of the Gulf Coast with condos, hotels, retirement communities, and thousands of square miles of housing developments. My point is that Florida might not rank near the top of high-tech business regions, but in terms of total economic growth — including a century of tourism, an international presence in agribusiness, and huge volumes of residential and infrastructural building — it might very well be considered among the top states or regions in the country.
Florida is viewed as the retirement capital of the nation, not the business capital! Too often, Florida is the destination of those who don’t make it in corporate hubs or are being “rewarded” with a final gesture before retirement. The business climate here needs to be invigorated. That lack of energy is one of the main reasons why I got involved with the Company of Friends in the first place. I thought I could meet some of the movers and shakers because too many local managers’ minds are on the fairway rather than the runway.
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