Florida Chamber: Our state lacks a rudder
Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson stopped by the St. Petersburg Times today to discuss the state's key economic development issues (while the state legislature is in session) and to lament that Florida "does not know where it wants to go."
This was no boo-hoo session. Wilson's a veteran of economic development and the Tallahassee state government scene. His big worry is the state will opt for easy solutions -- like unrestricted development and a dysfunctional property insurance market -- to ease the current economic pains, but ignore more pressing and longer-term issues that are critical to making Florida both competitive and less prone to boom-bust cycles.
Florida used to be the 5th cheapest state in the country, thus making it a magnet for decades of population growth. Now that it's the 14th most expensive state (though declining housing prices in the state may be changing that ranking), Florida jobs still do not pay the national average. That's a nasty combination of rising costs and substandard wages. And it's a prescription for long-term mediocrity, at best, and disaster at worst.
How refreshing to hear that education is Wilson's top prioritythough admittedly we did not have the luxury of time in this meeting to flesh out what that really means. I do know that Wilson has a 3rd grader who is, as he calls it, a member of the "Class of 2020." The problem is Wilson sees little going on in school that would help his child become better prepared for the types of jobs Florida is likely to be putting its resources behind come 2020.
Wilson reminded us that Florida's population will rise by another 7 million by 2030. That's down from 10 millionin an earlier and more optimistic look at state growth. But it's still a lot people and, Wilson warns, we can't accommodate them in the freestyling Florida way that we welcomed the past 7 million.
Higher-density cities and greenways. That's how Wilson sees metropolitan areas growing in the future -- if we do it right. He also used the phrase "economic gardening" to emphasize the need for Florida to spend more time cultivating its own businesses, especially those in areas like aerospace, biotech and information technology industries that are supposed to be some of the target industries of Florida's future.
"We are troubled that Florida lacks a long-range plan," Wilson said. Why do I think none of these bigger-picture challenges confronting this state will be meaningfully addressed in the legislative session now under way?
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist