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State to chart a new course for business

But a task force charged with defining a long-range strategy includes no bay area members or meetings.

By next year, Florida will have its first long-range strategic plan to attract more high-paying jobs and make the state a better place to do business.

But as state officials and business executives work out a preliminary version over the next few months, they'll be getting surprisingly little input from the Tampa Bay area.

The effort is led by a 23-person task force of leaders from government agencies, private businesses and economic development organizations across the state. But not one person is from the Tampa Bay area.

And when officials hold hearings next month to hear how Florida can improve its economy, they'll visit only Tallahassee, Miami and Orlando.

"We didn't leave the Tampa Bay area out," said Tony Villamil, director of the state's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. "There will be other ways for people to get their opinions heard."

Villamil's office worked with Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development group, to pick the task force membership and public hearing locations.

The initiative's Web site (www.floridapartners.com) includes a form for online comments. The group has sent a survey to about 500 business leaders and economic development officials across the state. And if people are motivated enough, they can travel to one of the public hearings.

Still, the lack of Tampa Bay area participation is striking, considering that this area's population ranks second only to South Florida's.

"Of course, Enterprise Florida is based in Orlando. I got the feeling that picking the (public hearing) locations was a very political process," said Richard "Buzz" David, director of Pinellas County's economic development department.

There will be more hearings as the plan is refined, said Villamil, who also emphasized that the task force membership will change over time. The goal is to create a five-year plan, with input from the private sector and a wide range of state agencies.

Giving more say to Florida business has been one of Gov. Jeb Bush's top economic development priorities.

With his support, the Florida Legislature this year created a public-private agency to oversee how the state helps people find and train for jobs. Its other major move has been to streamline Enterprise Florida's tangled management structure.

Still, Florida lags behind other states in many areas of economic development, from cash incentives for new companies to how it markets itself.

State officials hope the strategic plan will help them figure out how to fix the problems. By Jan. 1, the task force will submit a plan to the Legislature for approval. It will be updated each year, and in the process, officials might get some fresh ideas.

"It's too much for 96 people to figure all this out," said Catherine Deans, spokeswoman for Enterprise Florida, referring to that organization's staff. "We think the more input, the better."

The task force already has come up with a set of lofty "guiding principles": Bring in better jobs. Increase international trade. Help rural and urban areas.

Of course, the tough part is translating those ideas into action, working with a Legislature that gave Villamil less economic development funding than he wanted this year.

"There is so much that's needed," Pinellas County's David said. "For Tampa Bay, we need continued help with transportation. But for Florida, the big thing is that we still don't do enough to market the state.

"When we talk to companies in California, they know about the retirees, the weather, the tourism in Florida. But they don't know about the technology here, that this is a place for business."

Enterprise Florida has a relatively tiny marketing budget, but Villamil hopes this initiative may help state agencies better pool their resources while they send out a unified message.

"The Legislature has to prioritize everything, and so do we," Villamil said. "This will allow us to truly speak for the companies all over Florida when we talk about what those priorities should be."

Plan specifics

WHAT: A new five-year strategic plan for Florida's economic development initiatives.

WHO'S FORMULATING IT: A task force of state officials and business leaders.

TO COMMENT: Go to the initiative's Web site (www.floridapartners.com) or attend one of three public hearings.

HEARINGS: June 12, Florida State University, Tallahassee; June 14, Florida International University, Miami; June 15, Valencia Community College, Orlando. Each session is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $15 if paid by June 5, or $20 after that.

The economic development task force

Here are the 23 members of the task force in charge of formulating a five-year economic development plan for Florida. None is from the Tampa Bay area.

Curtis Austin, CEO for work force development, Enterprise Florida.

Tom Berry, secretary, Department of Transportation.

Jim Breitenfeld, director of defense programs, Enterprise Florida.

Leslie Corley, CEO, LM Capital Securities Inc., Boca Raton.

Mike Frey, Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce.

Patrick Hadley, governor's liaison for community development.

Adam Herbert, chancellor, Florida Board of Regents.

Julia Johnson, chairwoman, ITFlorida.com task force.

Joe Lacher, BellSouth Corp.'s Florida president.

Michael Langley, CEO, Broward Alliance.

Ed Litrenta, vice president of marketing, SeaWorld, Orlando.

Jay Malina, CEO, Xebec Trade Finance Corp., Miami.

Jerry Mallot, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Rebecca Mattingly, Florida film commissioner.

Edward O'Conner Jr., executive director, Spaceport Florida Authority.

Larry Pendleton, president, Florida Sports Foundation.

Win Phillips, graduate school dean, University of Florida.

Jim Poole, Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

Martha Roberts, deputy commissioner, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Frank Ryll, president, Florida Chamber of Commerce.

William Serravezza, executive vice president, SunTrust Inc., Orlando.

Janet Watermeier, executive director, Lee County economic development office.

John Winn, Office of Planning and Budgeting.

Source: www.floridapartners.com

_ Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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