Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Florida says it wants 'jobs, jobs, jobs' but it really needs 'opportunity, opportunity, opportunity'

If you don't know where you are going, any job will get you there. That's the underlying message these days in Florida.

Much to the delight of the elected in Tallahassee, the state's unemployment rate continues to drop. That's thanks to more jobs, but also a worrisome trend of more people dropping out of the workforce.

Within Florida, Tampa Bay ranks high among the top metro areas for creating new jobs.

That's great. As far as it goes.

A huge gulf exists between creating jobs and creating opportunity. And while Florida currently excels at one, it badly trails at the other.

It's a lesson politicians in this state, obsessed with the simplistic jobless rate as a barometer of the health of our economy, still struggle to learn. Young people in Florida may stay for a job but find it hard to build their American Dream here. Many more sense better opportunity elsewhere and will leave for a career.

We need to fix that. We can't become a leader as the nation's third-largest state (as we will become shortly) built on a flimsy foundation of abundant but often mediocre work, weak high school graduation rates, and high crime and poverty.

So let's applaud the Sunshine State's 6.7 percent unemployment rate. But let's focus on the far more important and far less praiseworthy ranking of Florida's "opportunity index."

The state lands at an unimpressive No. 40 in the country, just below Kentucky and above Tennessee, according to a recent annual ranking by the bipartisan group Opportunity Nation. The group's leadership council includes such diverse names as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Harvard Business School professor Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas and Bain Capital managing director Joshua Bekenstein.

The index compiles more than a dozen factors from jobs and economy to education, community health and civic life. Each state and almost every county then gets a letter grade from "A" to "F" on its economic mobility — the opportunity for people to get ahead via hard work, perseverance, education and the belief in a brighter future.

Opportunity Nation says economic mobility is badly lagging in this country. They and others point to low-income kids in nearly a dozen European countries and Canada who have better chances of improving their economic situation than similar children born in the United States.

The weak findings locally reflect why the state ranking is so poor.

In Tampa Bay, the two dominant counties, Hillsborough and Pinellas, received a "C." Hillsborough's measurements closely tracked the state's, though the county suffered a higher rate of violent crime. In Pinellas, high school on-time graduation rates (65.2 percent) lagged behind the state's numbers. And Pinellas, too, lost marks for a higher-than-average rate of violent crime.

To the north, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties all received grades of "C-." The three counties suffered with more than 19 percent of their youth, ages 16 to 24, as disconnected — neither working nor in school. And all three counties had a relative scarcity of health care providers.

Most Florida counties received similar or even lower grades. The highest grade was a "B-," and only a few counties received even that.

The opportunity index even contrasts two kids — "Jane" born in Hillsborough with a "C" opportunity grade and "John" born in Michigan's Oakland County with a "B" grade — and maps the likelihood of their success in life as they contend with different qualities of education, community safety, affordable housing and household incomes.

John has a distinct advantage in getting ahead over Jane, the index suggests.

Fixating on "jobs, jobs, jobs" may lower the unemployment rate. But alone, it won't raise the opportunity bar in Florida.

Regional economic cheerleader Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn never wastes a speaking opportunity to emphasize how he wants this area to become more attractive to young and talented people. He's eager that his children find the economic opportunities here to be as compelling, or more compelling, than those in competing metro areas like Charlotte or Atlanta.

To be sure, Tampa Bay seems to be making some progress lately.

Well-regarded companies with global brands such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Time Warner and insurer USAA are choosing the area for major expansions and jobs that promise career opportunities along with decent paychecks.

An ambitious initiative dubbed MediFuture is under way that hopes to establish the Tampa Bay area as one of the major hubs of health care innovation in the country. That spells potential opportunity.

More area schools are embracing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and specialty apprenticeships that can expose students to promising job fields. More schools are being "adopted" by private businesses that can at least bring more volunteers and financial support to budget-pressed educational systems.

And a growing regional web of educational and economic development groups are rallying to help support a young but growing number of business startups and entrepreneurial activity. The idea is to encourage talented risk-takers to start — and keep — new companies here.

The hope is these businesses eventually will add new jobs to the economy and even entice other talented entrepreneurs to this area. They also could provide an important job-creation tool to balance Tampa Bay's traditional reliance on taxpayer incentives to recruit companies based elsewhere to relocate or, more likely, expand a portion of their operations to this area.

But all these good intentions need broader and wiser support from the top. Otherwise, Florida will keep wallowing near the bottom of the opportunity pack.

So let's give a conditional cheer for every drop in Florida's unemployment rate. But let's be clear: All the low-paying, dead-end jobs in the world will not transform Florida into a land of opportunity.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Published: 01/19/18
Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

TAMPA — You could sketch an economic history of the city of Tampa — and maybe get a glimpse of its future — just by looking at the old J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana-American Cigar Factory.It opened in 1894, making it Ybor City’s second-oldest brick ciga...
Published: 01/19/18

Want to buy into an exchanged-traded bitcoin fund? You might have a long wait

NEW YORK — It may be a while, if ever, before investors can buy an exchange-traded fund made up of bitcoin and other digital currencies. Federal regulators have a long list of questions they want answered before they’ll approve a digital currency fun...
Published: 01/19/18
Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

A Georgia mother has gone viral for charging her 5-year-old "rent." Yup — the kid pays up for food, water, cable and electric, too.Essense Evans described in a Facebook post how she handles her daughter’s allowance. The post, written on Saturday, was...
Published: 01/19/18

Addicted to your smartphone? Now there’s an app for that

Did you text? Sorry, I can’t see messages right now. Arianna Huffington locked my phone.The media tycoon turned wellness entrepreneur wants to keep you out of your phone, too, with a new app called Thrive. Its goal is to make it cool for a generation...
Published: 01/19/18
Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Jannus’s history-making flight in an early seaplane — simultaneously as ungainly and graceful as a pelican on the wing — is what Mayor Rick Kriseman calls an "under-told and under-appreciated" story, but a team of local history ...
Published: 01/19/18
Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail....
Published: 01/19/18
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Published: 01/19/18
Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

NEW YORK — Amazon is raising the price of its Prime membership monthly plan by nearly 20 percent. The fee of $99 for an annual membership will not change, the company said Friday. The online retailer had added the monthly payment option about two yea...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuba’s tourism is booming despite Trump’s tougher policy

Cuba’s tourism is booming despite Trump’s tougher policy

HAVANA — On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy...
Published: 01/19/18