A Labor Day letter to Gov. Scott: How to boost Florida's low economic confidence

Dear Gov. Scott:

On this Labor Day weekend, eight months after you took office, your state stands on the brink of another recession.

Your citizens are suffering from a shocking lack of confidence — far worse than the nation as a whole. The latest University of Florida survey finds consumer confidence among Floridians decreased to a near-record low in August. It has also dropped dramatically since January, when you officially became governor, from 77 to 62 last month, based on UF's confidence index.

Some of this is your fault. Some of it is not. Either way, if you can't find ways to raise this state's abysmal level of confidence, Florida is in trouble. And you, sir, would very likely become a one-term governor.

People need more reassurance that things will get better here, even if it is not so apparent right now.

Here are 10 steps to consider that might help nudge the Florida economy to move a little faster toward recovery or, at the least, make this Labor Day a little more pleasant.

Good luck, governor.

• • •

10. Read the economic tea leaves better. Being Governor No — no to high speed rail, no to children's welfare funding, no to more unemployment benefits — may appeal to the small but vocal tea party crowd. But you also need to be Governor Yes on some things tangible and uplifting. Lower business taxes and less regulation? That's okay, but those are intangibles. And the idea has become cliche. Find a more inclusive message to boost Floridians' confidence.

9. Recruit all the businesses you can from other states, but in this recession you told us corporate relocations are limited. The reality is we need more emphasis on starting businesses in Florida and encouraging businesses already here to grow and hire.

8. By all means, go with your gut and support Florida's ports with dredging and other modernization efforts. But don't bet that the Sunshine State economy will be such a big winner in trade or jobs from the superfreighters coming soon through the widened Panama Canal. It probably won't.

7. You told us during a recent visit to this newspaper that you're not a big fan of supporting specific industry clusters to develop in Florida. You prefer market competition to pick which industries are winners. That sounds good, yet it's inconsistent. Every economic development group, from Enterprise Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce on down to regional groups and individual cities, have pretty much endorsed an industry cluster strategy. That lack of buy-in at the governor's level isn't helping the clarity of economic message in this state. If we're not in synch on "clusters," then what should all those economic development folks be touting?

6. Elevate the public profile of your economic team. Show us who's leading this charge. I realize Gray Swoope, your handpicked secretary of commerce and CEO of Enterprise Florida, is still learning how Florida works since leaving his economic development job in Mississippi (a state, alas, with even less economic confidence than Florida. See ranking.) But Swoope, now this state's front man to deliver your "jobs, jobs, jobs" promise, needs to get better known. And quickly. Get him out in front of the public, not just talking to business groups. Let Floridians hear his positive ideas on getting Florida moving again.

5. Use these trade missions like the one you're taking next month to Brazil to deliver some real deals for Florida. Experts say Florida businesses need to export a lot more goods to help get this state moving again. So what do we make in Florida that Brazilians want? (If we don't make anything they want, why not? That's one booming economy down there.) And how do we get some advance work done so these trade missions come across less like high school field trips and more like substantive deal-cutting business events?

4. Think more out of the box to attract venture capital — the early funding behind young companies — which remains so desperately scarce in this fourth-largest state. Florida boasts few Fortune 500 companies it can call its own. We need more businesses to start here and prosper. Find ways to make this state more attractive to venture capital. Encourage more diverse investing in this state by funneling more money into venture capital and less into the next strip shopping center.

3. Consider some type of public works program that will get more young people back to work. The unemployment rates of Florida teens and young adults, especially minorities, is atrociously high. Might we consider a temporary loophole to the $7.31 minimum wage if it helped younger workers get more work opportunities?

2. Get more smart people working on ways to fix Florida's housing disaster. Waiting for reluctant big banks to foreclose or stall on short sales is a ticket to another recession. Please tell our state attorney general to stop fiddling for so many months over a mortgage settlement with big bank lenders and get this housing debacle behind us. And start thinking ahead about a more bullish housing message for Florida. Homes here are starting to get very affordable again.

1. Consider a bold move. When Jeb Bush was governor, he personally cut a deal with California's elite Scripps Research to bring a Scripps biotech facility to this state. It was horribly expensive, nearly half a billion dollars in federal, state and local incentives. But it did jump-start a biotech renaissance around the east coast city of Jupiter (where Scripps landed) and attracted other high-value companies to follow Scripps to Florida. The sad news is both Gov. Charlie Crist and now you, Gov. Scott, chose not to push biotech as a favored Florida industry, and we lost our momentum.

Still the idea — what big, honkin' economic gesture can the elected leader of Florida make? — has appeal as a confidence builder for this state. Recruit the kind of whopper business others might follow? Embrace our own 21st century industry? How about renew the call (and mean it) to make the Florida university system truly world class?

How about it, governor? Any of these suggestions sparking your imagination? A very dejected state economy sure could use a fresher and more confident message.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Top, bottom states in economic confidence

Top 10Index

Dist. of Columbia +11

North Dakota -13

Nebraska -16

South Dakota -17

Maryland -17

Index

Massachusetts -19

Utah -19

Iowa -20

Minnesota -20

Virginia -20

Bottom 10*Index

West Virginia -44

Maine -39

Idaho -37

Louisiana -37

Mississippi -36

Nevada -35

Kentucky -35

Delaware -35

Ohio -34

Florida -34

Rhode Island -34

* Eleven states listed because of ties.Source: Gallup Economic Confidence Index, January-June 2011

Florida economy

10.7%

Unemployment rate

1,019,100

People in the work force without jobs (July)

$136,500

Single-family home, state median sales price (July)

47%

Home price decline since 2006 peak

$749.30

Average weekly earnings

3%

Average earnings drop since January ($770.77 per week in January but by June, $749.30)

26,596

Decline in number of

businesses, 2010 vs. 2008

64,000

Jobs created since start of 2010

$747.7B

Florida 2010 gross domestic product

A Labor Day letter to Gov. Scott: How to boost Florida's low economic confidence 09/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 9:33pm]

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