TAMPA — Furniture was struggling. Textiles were foundering. Even in the 1960s, the tobacco industry was facing a decline.
So state leaders in North Carolina pulled together to create the now-envied Research Triangle.
Today "it's time for Florida to grow up," said university system chancellor Frank Brogan. It's time, he told business leaders and educators Wednesday, "to make a commitment to create a knowledge-based economy."
Leaders in government and industry have long lamented the shortfall of students who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known by the acronym STEM.
Most participants at this week's STEM Summit at the Museum of Science and Industry agreed that students' interest should be piqued as early as middle school; and the relationship between schools, industry and economic development agencies must be seamless.
"We need to move beyond networking, into partnerships," said Chris Hart IV, head of Workforce Florida, the public-private employment agency, "and then from partnerships into real collaboration and strategic alliances."
The third annual summit was the best attended, speakers said, as STEM has become a key talking point for Democrats and Republicans alike. Participants discussed strategies from science-themed cartoons to NASA outreach programs.
Will Weatherford, Florida's incoming speaker of the house, said the issue is beyond the grasp of the state or federal government. "This problem, I think, is going to be solved by the business community teaming up with our local school districts," the Wesley Chapel Republican said.
But Weatherford also said he believes several steps the legislature took in the last session will help recruit more highly qualified science teachers. These include a controversial new system of performance-based pay.
"There's no reason why the best science teacher in Hillsborough County shouldn't be able to make $100,000 a year or more," Weatherford said. "Right now it's almost like charity work."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.