Skip to main content
Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 2, 2009 12 years ago

Game Plan

Working with businesses, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has, for the first time, come up with an economic road map to get the state to a healthy, long-term growth mode.

Working with businesses, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has, for the first time, come up with an economic road map to get the state to a healthy, long-term growth mode.

He had to leave for another event in Gainesville, but a number of business people surrounded and stopped Mark Wilson recently in Tampa after he gave a sobering message to the Tampa Rotary.

That message was this: For 30 years, Florida was the fifth-cheapest state to live and do business in, with more jobs than people; with agriculture, tourism and construction leading the way.

Then, by about 2003, fueled by higher property taxes and construction costs, Florida resurfaced as the 14th most expensive state.

“And we can't go back,” says Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “As leaders, we have to come to terms with this.”

The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story with the headline, 'Is Florida over?' Wilson got calls from media around the world.

“My answer was, 'Yes,'” he says.

But Wilson meant the old Florida economic model, not Florida itself. It was time to draft a new model.

“Florida doesn't know how it is doing because it doesn't know where it is going,” he says. He quoted a verse from Proverbs, “With no vision, the people will perish.”

So Wilson and his staff met with businesses across the state. They agreed that after the overbuilding in the real estate industry and the economic slowdown, the state must embrace a new economic game plan, based on investing in existing businesses, reducing government red tape and promoting education to train the workforce and keep talented students here.

It is the first time a Florida business group has officially drafted an economic game plan, Wilson said. And if nothing else, it gives businesses a starting point to plan or refer to, when trying to improve Florida's business climate and when talking to lawmakers.

“The community needs to work with businesses and business organizations to make a better Florida,” Wilson says. “I hope we can learn this after this economic hiccup.”

This is important because the state expects 7 million more people to move in by 2030.

Among the points of the new economic plan is that Florida needs to think globally. It is no longer competing against Georgia and Alabama, but also against India and China.

“Companies can hire architects and CPAs in India,” Wilson says.

Another trend, which may work in Florida's favor, is that the next generation of workers is looking more for a good place to live than to joining a good company, Wilson says.

Dovetailing with that trend, Wilson says Florida needs to work more at building a larger high-wage job base, in industries such as information technology and aerospace.

The state's schools, starting in elementary school, need to fine-tune their curriculum so students will be better prepared for the evolving global job market.

“My son will enter the workforce in 2020 and his third-grade curriculum has nothing to do with those needs,” Wilson says. “My kids are not competing with a kid in Atlanta or Sacramento. They are competing with kids around the world.”

For years, Florida and other states have spent a lot of money to lure companies here. The chamber's plan calls for redirecting that spending to business incubators to help grow jobs locally.

Florida must also invest in improving its infrastructure, such as roads and mass transit, which are not serving its current population and businesses adequately, Wilson says.

The state needs to lower costs for businesses and push government to adopt business-like practices, he says.

Florida has 67 counties, 67 school districts and each has a payroll department. Walmart has a million employees and four people work in payroll, Wilson notes.

“Government has not been open to using business principles,” he says.

Related Stories