Will Friday's 'Jobs Summit' produce urgent solutions or just ideas for 2012 and beyond?
Wake up and good morning. Amid Florida's sky-high unemployment rates, you could ask what took our state leaders so long to assemble a "Jobs Summit"in Orlando tomorrow that will search for ways to spark job hiring in the state. The summit is supposed to help lay the groundwork for a policy direction when legislators convene for their 2010 session in Tallahassee, which in practical terms means even the best intentions from this gathering is unlikely to deliver substantive aid to the unemployed for months or even year -- if ever. (Photo: Area teachers from closed schools being interviewed, by Edmund D. Fountain, St. Petersburg Times.)
Still, with a state unemployment rate of 11.5 percent and a Tampa Bay rate far worse at 12.3 percent, we're glad that our state leaders, belatedly, are awake enough to see joblessness as Florida's great Achilles Heel. Just listen to incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos (in photo): “Creating jobs will be job No. 1 for the Florida Legislature in the 2010 session, and this Jobs Summit is about coming together around an effective plan to grow our economy and make Florida more attractive to new investment that will spur the creation of new, good-paying jobs.”
Alas, the summit may proceed with partisan blinders. Republican legislative leaders will guide the summit to consider three methods of boosting jobs, all right out of the conservative playbook:
1. Identifying and removing barriers to new jobs development
2. Developing appropriate financial and tax incentives to lure new jobs to Florida.
3. Enabling existing employers to create new jobs and retain existing jobs.
Not that any of these three are bad or misguided. You'd think legislators would have already been pursuing these avenues full throttle long before things got this bad in the state. But aside from showing a profound lack of imagination in job generation, the limited scope of the Jobs Summit unfortunately may mean any agreed-upon job incentives will take a long time to filter from Tallahassee into the actual job market.
Ideas for 2012 and beyond are great but seem out of step with our reality in Florida. More immediate programs to boost job hiring may get short shrift. We hope not, given the astonishing numbers of well educated, ready to work people in Florida who cannot find a job and in many cases have been without steady income for many months and, in more and more cases, years.
If the Jobs Summit is a political and intellectual exercise, it will have failed its mission. Here's hoping a greater urgency emerges at the Orlando event. Here's the agenda of the summit. The St. Petersburg Times will have a business reporter there and we'll keep you updated.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist