The United States faces a daunting challenge in creating jobs: At current rates, it will take until 2016 to replace the 7 million of them lost during the 2008-09 recession. To regain full employment — finding work for the unemployed and accommodating the 15 million Americans expected to enter the labor force this decade — the U.S. economy must create 21 million jobs by 2020.
— McKinsey Global Institute report: An economy that works: Job creation and America's future
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The longer I write about business for the Petersburg Times, the more I spend time prowling this Florida region visiting big and small companies, economic development groups, universities and schools, well-intentioned but often-numbing meetings, rubber chicken lunches, job fairs and even some lonely inventors.
What am I looking for?
People and places that seem to have the "right stuff" in creating jobs in these tough economic times. I'm hunting for fresh ideas about how to shift our regional economy from today's Zzzz to a bit more Zoom. I'm looking and listening for sources of outrageous enthusiasm, boundless energy and contrarian savvy. I even seek some "Damn the torpedoes"-style leadership — because we're going nowhere if somebody somewhere around here is not willing to take some business risks.
It will take all of that and more to jump-start more — and better — jobs in the coming years. That McKinsey comment above — this country needing 21 million jobs by 2020 to regain full employment — is daunting. It's not an impossible nine-year dream by any means. But it will mean investing today in some good, fundamental stuff that should produce more jobs, and more of the kinds of employment we say we want for the next generation here.
Sitting around waiting for a comeback of the same Florida-as-usual economy we've seen flushed down the toilet in the past five years is a fool's errand. It has become pop business culture to lament that the United States has lost its edge to innovate or that our public schools churn out too many young adults who can't think critically, can barely read and boast very few skills that fit with today's new job demands.
Well, it's time to push back. Across the Tampa Bay area, there are more promising signs of innovation than you think.
I see it in this past week's news that the University of South Florida ranks ninth among universities worldwide for the number of its patents (83 — more than that if you count joint patents with Moffitt Cancer Center and other partners). Patents are a good barometer of innovation.
I hear it in the excitement generated by Dr. Jonathan Ellen, St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital physician in chief and vice dean and pediatrics professor at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) School of Medicine, who told a business crowd Thursday that collaborative medical, research and educational possibilities of the two new hospital partners is startling.
I see it in the introduction of the new way of teaching math — called SunBay Digital Math — at some Pinellas County schools that already is producing impressive student performance gains in a surprisingly short time. Digital Math comes to us courtesy of hotshot researchers SRI International — SRI was recruited to expand to St. Petersburg in late 2009 — and, with some timely support from the local business community, may prove revolutionary.
And I see it in the start of the Gazelle Lab, a "business accelerator" just getting under way via USF St. Petersburg's College of Business to encourage, mentor and propagate promising local business startups.story above.)
The McKinsey report on this country's jobs future is worrisome. By 2020, it warns, there will be up to 1.5 million too few college graduates to meet demand, but 5.9 million more Americans without high school diplomas than employers can use.
Still, look around. There's more Zoom in Tampa Bay than you might imagine. It's the kind of investing that will help put us back on track to more and higher-paying jobs.
It had better.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.