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Robert Trigaux

Can Florida nurture (and retain) talent in state to make it a global competitor?



Markwilsonfloridachamberceo Wake up and good morning. Every political and economic development leader here at Monday's "Talent Summit" organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce insists Florida's economy is in an historic transition from old school tourism and agriculture to new age biotech and green energy. The difference is old school requires workers with modest educations and pays below-average wages; new age industries require more sophisticated employees with better training who then earn above-average pay.

The next wave can happen, politicians and business leaders insist, as long as Florida puts a premium on "talent" and by that they mostly mean upgrading Florida's educational system. "As the economy transitions," says Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson (in photo), "talent is the new economic currency around the world."

Adds Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who spoke Monday: "A transformation is taking place in Florida." he told the audience, "Florida will experience a boom such as it's never seen before."

Jefflyash Hey, I'm all for economic transitions and transformations. Nobody's a bigger fan of the idea of raising Florida's educational bar, which at this point a Florida alligator could not limbo under. But I'm still left with that uneasy feeling that our Tallahassee politicians lack the will and discipline to make it happen. And, as was noted repeatedly here Monday by attendees, selling Florida residents (who will continue to be dominated by people over age 60) on the value of paying higher taxes for better schools is clearly an uphill battle.

Here are the five best insights expressed at Monday's Talent Summit:

* Jeff Lyash, Progress Energy executive (in second photo): Florida needs to "accelerate" its upgrading of the state educational system with an emphasis on math and science. "My concern is that we're moving too slow."

* Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO: Once considered a cheap state, Florida is now the 19th most expensive state in the country.

* Will Holcombe, chancellor of the "Florida College System" formerly known as the Community College System: 67 percent of Florida high school graduates are now enrolled in some type of postsecondary education, up from 50 percent a decade ago. "That's progress. Just not enough."

* Frank Brogan, recently named chancellor of the state university system: In 1994, Florida's educational system was often compared with (those of) third world nations.

* Jeff Kottkamp, lieutenant governor: Virgin Atlantic chose New Mexico as the site of its fledgling space tourism business, but Kottkamp's confident Florida can lure them here.

The Talent Summit was day one of a series in the Chamber's "Future of Florida" forums. Tuesday is dedicated to the "State of the State" with a focus on more of the six economic drivers -- talent, innovation, infrastructure, business climate, civic and government systems and quality of life -- that underpin Florida going forward.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:26am]


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