Florida has the talent and natural resources to be second to none in its economic development success. To continue to successfully market Florida domestically, nationally and globally, we must keep in mind the old real estate adage: “Location, Location, Location.”
Florida’s location positions us well for the constant migration of other Americans to our state, attracted by our unimposing tax structure, our climate, our beaches and theme parks, and our focused way of life that allows our citizens to be as free as possible from government intrusion in our lives. Florida’s natural resources draw new residents, tourists and business people seeking the best location in America to visit, live and work.
Our policy task should be to wisely enhance, preserve and manage our ideal location for today’s Floridians and millions of new residents and tourists over the next decade.
Maybe we should modify that realty marketing strategy. Marketing Florida domestically, nationally and globally is all about “Location, Education, Regulation.” We need to sell ourselves based on our assets.
Florida is, thankfully, already a great economic development location to market. Twenty-two million residents and over 100 million visitors each year provide a compelling customer market. Our Interstate Road System and Rail System with 12 freight terminals effectively serve the entire nation and Canada. Florida’s 15 ports, 16 international airports and spaceport provide easy access to and from Europe, Africa, South America, Central America, and Mexico.
Florida’s current globally oriented population, with multi-lingual communities, and experienced businesses, provide a knowledgeable marketing team for companies, importers, exporters and investors. Florida’s statewide leadership and local leadership in government, associations and businesses are a focused and dedicated marketing team for Florida and its communities.
I was formerly the CEO of an association of the 30 Florida-based, non-profit Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF). Those thirty institutions are active members of that marketing team too. ICUF members have over 35,000 employees, operating budgets totaling over $6 billion and hold well over $10 billion of total Florida assets. ICUF has around 150 Florida educational sites, awarding a significant portion of Florida’s bachelor’s and advanced degrees, and the state should examine how best to financially assist our citizens in choosing these programs.
ICUF brings more than 60,000 out-of-state students and their families to Florida as temporary residents and tourists.
Many of those students, upon graduation, stay in Florida and enrich our workforce and state economy. Many ICUF institutions also have educational sites throughout the nation and at partnering universities in Europe, Asia and South America. All of our institutions of higher education, both private and public, should be an integral component of our efforts to market Florida. They do much of that already.
So how do we find improved ways to enhance our assets and coordinate our efforts to push Florida ahead economically? We do a lot of that, too: beach re-nourishment, spring and natural water improvements, estuary maintenance, and other water-related management activities. All are crucial aspects of maintaining and improving the product we market to the world. Think of our precious assets as ingredients for selling Florida – strengthen the magnets that attract investors.
What else must Florida do? One priority - Florida must emphasize its educational reputation to Florida, national and global economic developers and employers. It must create stronger links between our outreach done by groups such as Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida to all of our institutions of higher education. Economic partnerships using our tremendous research capabilities and talent base should be a focused initiative.
Florida’s education system has grown fast and will continue to grow. Our four educational systems, (vocational-technical schools, state universities, state colleges, and independent colleges and universities) are among the largest in the nation. Their talent base is immense and a valuable asset for Florida. Using these educational assets to deliver graduates and campus resources to boost Florida’s economy is a critical assignment.
Rapidly growing and changing campuses are not so easily decoded or navigated by economic developers and businesses. Re-engineering that reputation and redesigning those services to economic developers and businesses requires three tactics: Coordinating, Consulting and Cataloging. Therefore, here are some ideas:
Florida’s four post-secondary education sectors and Florida’s economic developers should routinely coordinate to insert educational components into proposals to attract new national and global businesses and to expand current Florida businesses. This currently occurs in a piecemeal fashion. When former Gov. Rick Scott’s team was preparing a proposal for a national aerospace corporation that could locate anywhere, the Florida Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Florida, School of Engineering were enlisted to design and deliver tailored training and education as an element of the proposal. The proposal succeeded and Northrup-Grumman picked Melbourne for its new facility and its high-paying jobs. Such tailored educational elements should be an element in every Florida, national and global economic development proposal.
There is a growing critical shortage of teachers. This will continue. National news stories about critical teaching shortages are poorly received by businesses considering relocation or expansion. Just as in real estate marketing, educational reputation is a tremendous leveraging tool for decision-making. While we properly focus on the performance of teachers in our classrooms, even as our methods change, we ignore the pipeline decline at our peril. Gov. Ron DeSantis has already recognized this and through his initiative to get retired military into the classrooms, we see the beginnings of an aggressive strategy to lead the county in this area. There are similar production and regulatory failures in other high demand occupations and professions, as there are many options for addressing our critical employment needs.
Better coordination amongst regulators; meaningful consultation with those affected by regulations sought to be imposed; and the cataloging of multiple federal, state, and local regulations that affect employers costs could be tactics that all would welcome.
Florida is superbly positioned to continue to be economically successful and generate jobs in a state where people, tourists, and businesses want to live, visit and work. Better coordination and information sharing will help Florida be the premier economic development state in the nation.
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