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As the North is blanketed with snow, it's sunny in Florida — but is that enough?

Chicago could see its worst snowstorm ever. Oklahoma City told residents to stay inside. And Dallas, hosting the Super Bowl this weekend, closed the airport.

The forecast for Tampa: highs in the 70s.

As Florida works to redefine itself as an emerging hotbed of research and technology industries, a horrendous snowstorm blanketing much of the country reminds us of the one asset that has always given us an economic edge.

Weather.

Is that enough? Many experts don't think so.

"The bottom line is the Florida of yesterday is not the Florida of today, and it won't be the Florida of the future," said Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Postcards of palm trees, flamingoes and girls in bikinis won't suffice, some say. To compete with the rest of the country, state officials have identified six "industry clusters" — life sciences, information technology, homeland security, aviation and aerospace, financial and professional services and clean tech — that will import brains, wealth and jobs.

These industries are more likely to lure back the stream of home buyers and families who once made up Florida's phenomenal growth. They also are the kind of industries that will attract other business and academics.

The thing is, every state wants those industries. They all need positive economic development, and they all want to attract bright, innovative people.

"It's not unique to Florida," said Stuart Doyle, a spokesman for Enterprise Florida, the state's business development arm. "Really, these are industries that will do well nationally."

Which brings us back to the weather. Wouldn't all those scientists and engineers and financial officers rather move to a sunny locale than the dark and frozen Midwest cities we're seeing on the news right now?

And while we're at it, shouldn't we keep sending out postcards of beaches and flamingos?

"Hey, there's not a single person in the tourism industry that doesn't agree that we need to diversify the economy," said Chris Thompson, chief executive of Visit Florida, the state tourism agency. "But it's because of the weather and the natural resources here that tourism has been, and always will be, one of our most productive assets."

Even in 2009, one of the state's toughest years financially, Florida still had 80 million visitors contributing $61 billion to the state economy. About 22 percent of all sales tax collection was paid by people who came here for the sunshine.

"So let's celebrate it," he said.

The new state administration apparently agrees.

During a recent Fox News interview on the state budget, Gov. Rick Scott was introduced by an anchorwoman in Washington, D.C., who quipped, "It's much chillier here than it is in Florida."

Scott jumped on the opportunity.

"Everybody needs to move to Florida," Scott said. "We have the best state to live in, great weather, great beaches."

No mention of life sciences.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

As the North is blanketed with snow, it's sunny in Florida — but is that enough? 02/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 10:42pm]
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