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As much as Florida covets image as an innovative state, it trails badly

A student works during a class at Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco in 2013. Dev Bootcamp is a kind of computer programming school that’s sprouted in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs. These “hacker boot camps” promise to teach students how to write code in two to three months and help them get hired as Web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation. [Associated Press (2013)]

A student works during a class at Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco in 2013. Dev Bootcamp is a kind of computer programming school that’s sprouted in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs. These “hacker boot camps” promise to teach students how to write code in two to three months and help them get hired as Web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation. [Associated Press (2013)]

Innovation. It's an elusive word to define, but every state's economy desperately wants to be known as innovative. It's a 21st century thing.

Too bad, then, that Florida isn't there yet. Not by a long shot, judging by a new assessment of which states possess the "most innovative" mojo and which ones do not.

According to a Bloomberg News analysis, Florida is 35th among the 50 states on its state innovation index. It's a 0-100 scale based on six measures: research and development intensity; productivity; high tech density; concentration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employment; science and engineering degree holders; and patent activity.

Florida scored well in a few measures, especially high tech density (13th among states) and reasonably high in patents (22nd). But Florida countered those metrics with very poor scores in STEM concentration (41st among states), R&D intensity (36th) and the number of degree holders in science and engineering (32nd).

Most damning was Florida ranking 44th among states in productivity. That is measured by taking each state's GDP and dividing it by the number of employed workers. In the case of Florida, the low productivity metric is a direct criticism of the state's notorious obsession with creating lots of jobs of low quality. Hence the low measure of productivity based on their weak contributions to the state gross domestic product.

If this all sounds like statistical mumbo-jumbo, look at it this way: States perceived as weak innovators are places where neither the most cutting-edge companies nor the sharpest minds are likely to start a new business or expand from another state. As Florida has also discovered, a state perceived as behind on innovation makes it all the more difficult to retain the best and brightest minds graduating from its schools.

"Innovation usually leads to job creation, and high-skilled job creation, mostly," Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at global market analysis firm IHS, told Bloomberg. "But there are other jobs that come with it; namely, that as the labor force grows, they need haircuts, they need landscapers, all that stuff — so it does tend to have linkages to other parts of the economy."

That's why it remains so frustrating to see state leaders continue to fixate on 20th century measures of economic success like low unemployment rates and give so little attention to the far more critical gauges of Florida's trailing competitive status as an innovator.

Florida universities and some public school programs are trying to spur innovation. So are area technology organizations, workforce groups and startup efforts. But the state? When was the last time Gov. Rick Scott or legislative leaders took a significant stand on the kinds of policies that would boost the Sunshine State in the innovation ranks?

The Bloomberg state innovation index ranked Massachusetts tops in the country, followed by California, Washington, New Jersey and Connecticut. In the Southeast, North Carolina was the clear front-runner, ranking 16th nationwide, no doubt thanks to its well-established Research Triangle Park, its strong universities and to Raleigh, the best-educated metro area in this part of the United States. After North Carolina, Georgia landed at No. 26, then Florida at No. 35.

The five lowest-ranked states for innovation were Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, West Virginia and, in last place, Mississippi.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

As much as Florida covets image as an innovative state, it trails badly 01/11/16 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2016 7:19pm]
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