Central Florida is brimming with potential? it just needs to grow up a bit. It harbors many characteristics of the ‘laid-back South,’ but it can’t boast the business acumen of Houston, Atlanta, or Dallas. The high-tech industry could have great potential, if only the local community leaders would wake up and recognize the opportunity. For example, short-sighted local leaders recently rejected a proposal for mass transit that could have helped this region in the long run.
There are dozens of great companies located in and around Central Florida, but as far as I can tell, few do much networking or contact management. Most seem to keep a low profile outside of the ‘in crowd,’ which includes old citrus money and landed gentry. Of course, this insight could be a reflection of my own bias because I have to do most of my business out of those circles without sufficient resources to penetrate the ‘in crowd.’
Tallahassee is isolated in northern Florida. It’s one day east of New Orleans, a morning west of Jacksonville, and halfway between Atlanta and Orlando off the beaten track. Tallahassee’s size and strong economy is an anomaly in North Florida, which is a largely rural region. Its economic stability is rooted in being the state capital. Without politics, it would be a small, pleasant university town. The town is blanketed with plantations to the north and miles of pine to the south and west, yet there’s no strong agribusiness in the county, no natural resources, and little industry. There is, however, a growing number of high-tech businesses. These knowledge-based businesses often begin by selling their services to state agencies and eventually flourish regionally and nationally when they merge with larger national organizations.
There are several reasons why Tallahassee has a difficult time attracting businesses to the area. One is that there are few places for companies to locate because there are very few speculative industrial or office spaces being built. Further, because of strict growth planning in Leon County, of which Tallahassee is the county seat, any business needing a large plant would have to locate in an adjacent county.
The greatest potential for Tallahassee is in knowledge industries. For example, Mainline, a value-added reseller of computer products is building a wired campus to attract high-tech businesses. As for talent, Tallahassee’s two universities both have good business schools. Florida A&M University — a historically black institution with 12,000 students — and Florida State University, which has 40,000 students, produce graduates far in excess of the region’s ability to employ them at their level of capability.
Because Jacksonville is on the north side of Florida, it gets colder here. Therefore, we do not have the sheer number of heat-loving retirees that the south end of Florida does. Jacksonville isn’t as crowded as the Miami area, and does not have as many large ethnic groups.
I believe the greatest potential for growth is in the service sector, since natural resources are scarce and Jacksonville is not a well-located transportation hub. An important growth issue is improving the schools so that we can provide the workforce necessary to attract and sustain growth. Some positive things are happening now, I only hope they can continue.
South Florida is a unique business environment. I’m sure all areas say that, but our demographics in the Latin and elderly populations really make us quite different. The business community is not nearly as well organized as it is in other areas. And it is very difficult to find qualified talent locally in technology areas.
The major influences anywhere in Florida are tourism and retail. In addition, there are substantial military installations in many of our cities. However, there’s also a very good entrepreneurial climate and tradition here in Tampa. You have a lot of unique, stand-alone, neighborhood businesses or small-to-medium businesses that are expanding beyond the immediate area. For those reasons, we get some cutting-edge exposure to different fields.
For example, one successful local business is called Portable On-Demand Storage. If you’re renovating your house, they’ll put a storage unit in your yard and you can stow your stuff there. It’s like borrowing somebody’s garage. It’s been a huge success here in the region. Businesses like that are not high-tech in nature, yet they are still pushing the frontiers of consumer products and business services.
Tampa Bay is not traditionally a seat of corporate headquarters, but major corporations know the value of our area to their business. Our communications infrastructure is attractive to back-office operations like call centers and information retrieval businesses that employ hundreds if not thousands of people each. The communications infrastructure was built in part to support major military command operations at MacDill Air Force Base — a good example of how one industry tends to support others.
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