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Guest Author

J. Dudley Goodlette, Wilson Bradshaw: Florida Gulf Coast University to launch entrepreneurship studies degree

Florida Gulf Coast University added an exciting program to our growing entrepreneurship portfolio last week with the approval of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies.

This innovative degree program at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is built on an interdisciplinary, campus-wide approach for entrepreneurship embedded across the curriculum, and will be available for our students starting in August with the fall semester. Housed in FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business yet available to all students across the University, the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies degree consists of 24 credits of entrepreneurship courses along with required coursework in economics, public speaking and statistics. Students add electives based on their interests and career aspirations, and also participate in experiential opportunities engaging with retired and active business owners and entrepreneurs.

Although dating back to the founding of America, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to flourish in robust fashion today. Entrepreneurs increasingly are seeking to bolster that shining great idea with foundational support and shared experiences that maximize the opportunity to be successful. FGCU students are no different, and the University has responded to this burgeoning interest by increasing the number of entrepreneurial course offerings, competitions and activities. During the past year, more than 900 students enrolled in entrepreneurship courses.

The interdisciplinary nature of FGCU’s entrepreneurship focus is uniquely designed to serve not only those students with immediate interest in becoming an entrepreneur, but also other students whose degrees will include this entrepreneurial component as an added benefit for emerging future opportunities. For example, a music major may work as a performing artist or an arts educator, yet later develop an entrepreneurial product or service that transforms the music industry.

Successful entrepreneurial programs already in place for our students include the FGCU Institute for Entrepreneurship; a multidisciplinary Entrepreneurship minor; the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program which offers tuition-free online and on-campus instruction in the nationally recognized Lean Startup method; and the Runway Program, a 12-week program held at our Emergent Technologies Institute (ETI) in which faculty and mentors guide and provide project seed funding on a competitive basis to students who want to be entrepreneurs. And, we help prepare young aspiring entrepreneurs through our CEO Academy, a one-week camp for high school juniors and seniors co-presented by the Lutgert College of Business and Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida.

By approving the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies degree program, the FGCU Board of Trustees connects it with one of four pillars of the University’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan. This pillar includes an objective to “Launch an innovative interdisciplinary University-wide degree program that combines the core entrepreneurship framework within the Lutgert College of Business with distinct entrepreneurship concentration options in different programs, schools and colleges.”

Since opening our doors to students in 1997, Florida Gulf Coast University strategically has aligned its degree programs with regional and statewide employer demands in order to match student and workforce needs. As a part of this process, we routinely review FGCU’s degree offerings to determine their responsiveness, and add and discontinue programs as needed. During the past two and one-half years, the FGCU Board of Trustees has approved the elimination of 39 program majors on this basis, with the resulting opportunity to launch dynamic, in-demand programs like the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Studies.

Florida Gulf Coast University continues to break important ground in Southwest Florida and the State of Florida. We can only imagine what future entrepreneurial success will launch from our campus.

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J. Dudley Goodlette is chair of the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees; Wilson Bradshaw is FGCU President.

Alice Ancona: International trade essential to Florida’s economy

As Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration consider the future of trade, the Florida Chamber of Commerce encourages leaders to consider the important role trade plays in Florida’s economy.

From its discovery, Florida has been global. Much of what made Florida a destination and gateway in Florida’s early years, still holds true today. Florida’s current and future economy is tied to its ability to be a successful hub for international trade investment.

Florida’s geography, diversity and international linkages, combined with our state-of-the-art infrastructure, trade support networks, knowledge-based innovation ecosystem and highly skilled workforce, are assets that make Florida ripe for trade.

Today, if Florida were a country, it would be the 16th largest in the world by gross domestic product. Free and fair trade is essential to Florida’s global competitiveness, and policies that enhance competition in the global marketplace, reduce or eliminate trade and investment barriers will further grow Florida jobs.

In the coming days, a delegation of members from the Florida Chamber of Commerce will travel to Washington, D.C. to encourage Florida’s Congressional Delegation to support Florida job creators, and to work to ensure that trade continues to benefit the U.S. and Floridians.

With one out of four jobs in Florida tied to international trade, these will be important conversations and go a long way to helping secure Florida’s future.

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Alice Ancona serves as Director of International Strategy & Policy for the Florida Chamber International Trade and Investment Office.

 

Rick Kriseman: As a father, an obligation to support climate action

Like Dads across the country, this Father’s Day I’m looking forward to receiving some special attention from my two kids. But I’ll also be reflecting on my obligation as a father to protect my children from growing threats like climate change.

We don’t have the luxury of being in denial here in Florida, where rising sea levels are already imperiling coastal property and infrastructure. To turn a blind eye to escalating climate impacts is to say to our kids and grandkids that we really don’t care about their future.

That’s why when Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I joined mayors, governors, university and college leaders, businesses and investors from throughout the nation to declare that “We Are Still In.”

Here in St. Petersburg, we are going further.

Later this month, I will be attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting to share our city’s message that we are committed to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. More than 80 mayors from across the country have endorsed a goal of powering our cities with 100 percent clean and renewable energy. We know that the best way to slow fossil fuel-driven climate change is to repower our economies with clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. Here in the Sunshine State, that’s a no-brainer. Working toward 100 percent clean energy will help ensure that St. Pete remains a ‘city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play.’”

We will continue to support strong climate action and a transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity and health. After all, the facts on the ground (or in the oceans and atmosphere) haven’t changed. Just the politics.

I’m proud of the fact that St. Petersburg has been on the cutting edge of preparing for climate change. We were the first city in Florida to update our land-use plans to comply with the “Perils of Flood” state law, and we are upgrading our infrastructure at a rapid pace. But while we prepare our city to adapt to climate impacts such a rising ocean, more severe storms and heat waves, I’m more determined than ever to do everything I can to help bring about a rapid transition to a clean energy economy that gets to the root of the problem.

Moving quickly toward 100 percent clean, renewable energy will not only help slow climate change, it will improve our air quality, protect our kids’ health, strengthen our economy and create exciting opportunities for today’s workers, and those who have yet to enter the workforce. Solar jobs in Florida increased by 26 percent per year last year, but we’re still far behind where we can and should be. The sky is the limit. Clean, renewable energy produced right here in Florida means more money stays in our communities, rather than being sent to out of state fossil fuel corporations.

While Donald Trump is doing everything he can to keep us bound to 19th-century fossil fuels like coal, and all of its consequences, St. Petersburg and cities and states across the country are recommitting to a clean, healthy, prosperous, clean energy future. For every step backward by the Trump administration, we’ll take two steps forward.

Long after my service as mayor is done, my kids Jordan and Samuel will be living their lives with families of their own. As parents, our most important shared legacy will be the health of the world we are leaving them. Everything we do today to confront climate change with clean, renewable energy is a gift of hope and love to our kids.

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Rick Kriseman is Mayor of St. Petersburg.

Carol Bowen: Florida construction marketplace healthier thanks to new legislation

The Associated Builders and Contractors and our 2,500 members are pleased to report that new legislation will now strengthen competition and reduce abusive litigation in Florida’s multibillion commercial and public construction markets.

We also want to thank Gov. Rick Scott for his support of these two pro-business, pro-consumer bills.

With the help of Rep. Jayer Williamson and Sen. Keith Perry, ABC successfully landed House Bill 599 (Public Works Projects), which will promote a more open, honest and competitive bid process for public construction projects where state dollars represent 50 percent or more of the funding. Prior to this bill, local governments could establish arbitrary pre-bid mandates on contractors telling them who they must hire, where they must train and what benefit packages they must offer if they want to bid a job with that entity. For many small businesses, these mandates made it unaffordable to bid on many public projects.

For many small businesses, these mandates made it unaffordable to bid on many public projects.

Increasing competition will benefit Florida taxpayers as well.

With the support of Rep. Tom Leek and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, ABC also brought home House Bill 377 (Limitations on Actions other than for the Recovery of Real Property), which helps clarify when and how Florida’s 10-year statute of repose begins to run on a completed project. The statute of repose defines the period in which an owner can sue for alleged construction defects. Previously, some owners and their attorneys delayed (or shorted) making final payment for construction in an effort lengthen the repose period well beyond the 10 years the Legislature had envisioned.

This created open-ended liability, which cost the system millions of dollars in abusive lawsuits.

House Bill 377 now defines “completion of the contract,” which acknowledges that there are two parties to a deal — the owner and the contractor — and that both have a say in when the 10-year period may begin to run.

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Carol Bowen, J.D., is the Associated Builders and Contractors’ deputy chief lobbyist and vice president of government affairs. For more information about upcoming legislation, contact Carol at cbowen@abceastflorida.com.

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/taxonomy/term/307

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

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Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

Ardian Zika: Tearing down ‘walls’ to reach American dream

Ardian Zika

Thirty years ago, on this special day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, sent a powerful message to Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall!”

This powerful call to action brought hope for a new beginning and was a catalyst in delivering millions out of the bondage of communism. Only a few years later, the world witnessed the “fall of the Berlin Wall.”

A four-word sentence united a European continent divided between light and darkness.

It was indeed a powerful moment in the history of humanity.

I was a young boy growing up in Kosovo when President Reagan sent this powerful message … A day where the gates of freedom began to open for millions of East Europeans to join the free world.

As an American who started my journey as an immigrant, I’m very thankful to my fellow Americans for giving me the gift of lifetime … the gift of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus, I will forever be grateful for the blessing and opportunity to pursue the American Dream … a land where dreams come true!

Opportunities do come with responsibility … an individual responsibility to invest in others and help remove the invisible “walls” that prevent many Americans from achieving their American dream. When we are united as a community, we become an unstoppable force for greatness.

So why wait? Let’s make an impact!

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Ardian Zika serves a board member of CareerSource Florida. Join him on Twitter @ArdianZika.

Timothy Stapleton: Fighting the opioid epidemic in the exam room

FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton

The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis. Opioid addiction is taking mothers, fathers and children; destroying lives, breaking up families. The problem is particularly insidious in Florida, which has become a destination for rehabilitative services and sober home living. In the first part of 2016, approximately 2,600 people died from opioid overdoses in the state and the epidemic shows no sign of slowing.

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared a public health emergency over this crisis, which frees up nearly $30 million in federal funds to fight this battle for Floridians. State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, M.D., has been directed to keep a standing order of Narcan and Naloxone — drugs used to counteract overdoses — at the ready, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was recently appointed to President Donald Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has secured a deal for the two drugs to be purchased at a discounted rate.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) represents more than 20,000 physicians in the state and provides them with access to expert advice, support and resources. As an advocate for the highest standards of medical care, we stand alongside our state’s leaders as we work to reverse the destruction being caused by opioid addiction and overdose in our state.

It’s up to all of us to come together as a community to fight this rampant problem at every level: education, prevention, treatment and recovery services. Physicians can effect positive change by staying educated on best practices and effectively communicating with their patients about treatment protocols for pain management. There is an inherent risk in prescribing highly addictive medications, particularly for patients suffering from severe chronic pain. Physicians have a duty to consider the risks versus clinical effectiveness of prescribing opioids and communicate those risks and benefits clearly and honestly to their patients.

The FMA recommends that physicians follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for prescribing opioids. This includes starting “low and slow” with dosages and prescribing no more than needed for acute and chronic pain. Physicians also have a responsibility to follow up with their patients, to ascertain effectiveness of treatment and, when necessary, include strategies to mitigate the risk of addiction or overdose.

Florida has established a state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to access and review an individual’s history of controlled substance use before making any decisions on best course of treatment. PDMP data is used by prescribers to avoid dangerous drug combinations that would put a patient at high risk for potential addiction or overdose. This, along with urine drug testing to identify prescribed substances and undisclosed use, prevents pill-seeking patients from “doctor shopping.” The FMA encourages physicians to utilize the database, along with established protocols, protections and research, to ensure that they are able to make appropriate clinical decisions for their patients and prescribe treatments responsibly, safely and effectively.

Physicians have an obligation to educate their patients while developing treatment goals. Treatment does not end when a prescription is written: An open line of communication is necessary to make appropriate clinical decisions and detect signs of opioid dependence.

The FMA remains steadfast in our commitment to the people of Florida who entrust their health to physicians. We will do even more as we continue fighting to protect patients’ health and well-being by arming Florida physicians with the tools necessary to empower their patients. Irresponsible treatment plans and illegal distribution of opioids have no place in the medical field.

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Timothy J. Stapleton is CEO of the Florida Medical Association.  

Pat Neal: Look to Colorado — cutting VISIT Florida funding would be disastrous

Pat Neal

Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, the revival of the Florida economy has been marked by annual job growth and tourism rates that outpace the national average. The inextricable link between Florida’s investment in its tourism industry and this economic recovery is affirmed by the statistics.

Visitor spending in Florida has increased by an average of 6.8 percent annually over the past five years, with $78.3 billion spent in 2010 growing to a $108.8 billion total by 2015. The impact of this job creation spending cannot be understated, with statistics showing that for every 76 visitors that visit the state, one job is supported. In addition, the return on investment Florida sees from VISIT Florida is irrefutably positive, with each dollar invested in VISIT Florida generating $3.20 in tax revenue.

To gauge just how disastrous major cuts to VISIT Florida would be, one must look to Colorado. Keep in mind that Colorado has a more diversified and equitable share of its gross domestic product among different industries, and is not quite as reliant upon the tourism industry alone for its revenues. So, presumably, the effects of defunding tourism marketing programs in Florida would be even more drastic than those seen in Colorado.

In 1993, an obscure provision in the state law allowed for the funding of the state’s tourism marketing mechanisms to expire. This meant that Colorado became the first state to essentially eliminate its funding for tourism marketing.

The effects were fairly immediate and more drastic than could have been anticipated. The elimination of their $12 million tourism marketing budget manifested in a 30 percent decrease in Colorado’s share of the domestic tourism market. In terms of dollars, this constituted a contraction of Colorado’s tourism revenue by $1.4 billion annually.

Eventually, this loss would consistently top $2 billion, with Colorado’s summer resort tourism share, previously No. 1 in the nation, falling to 17th place as a symptom of these ill-advised cuts to tourism marketing.

Even more troublesome is the reality that despite this self-inflicted annual hemorrhaging of Coloradans’ tourism revenue is the reality that it took seven years to reinstate a tourism marketing budget. We all know the wheels of democracy can be sluggish, but it could be avoidable. With billion-plus dollar losses within the tourism industry, enduring for seven years without real intervention is a frightening prospect. It is a prospective reality that the legislature should seriously consider as it continues to push for cuts in funding VISIT Florida.

For comparison’s sake, in 2015 Colorado set a state visitor spending record with $19.1 billion collected. As noted, Florida’s 2015 visitor spending total was over $108 billion. One can understand that the impact of cutting tourism marketing funds in Florida would have exponentially significant and dire consequences to the state economy than Colorado experienced.

Fortunately, like Florida, Colorado’s tourism is now thriving, setting records in terms of visitor numbers, spending and tax revenues. Legislators acknowledge the critical role that marketing campaigns have served in producing record tourism numbers, and they have increased spending annually since the budget was reinstated in 2000. What started as a $5.5 million budget for tourism marketing in 2000 has become a $19 million resource pool in 2015, a relatively minor investment with a substantial payout.

Colorado provides a microcosmic, yet very real, cautionary tale regarding the value of funding marketing for Florida’s tourism industry. VISIT Florida, under the guidance of Gov. Scott, have installed a framework that spreads investment costs between the public and private sectors, all the while maintaining systems that allow for misspent money to be recouped.

Money spent through VISIT Florida is fiscally responsible, logical for businesses and critical to the prosperity of Florida’s citizens. For proof of their essentiality to Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, simply look to the West.

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Pat Neal is former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

 

John Sowinski: Gambling lobbyist finally admits it – casinos prey on customers

John Sowinski

Marc Dunbar is one of Florida’s best-known gambling advocates. When it comes to pushing for more and bigger casinos, he wears the hats of a lawyer, lobbyist and investor.

And so, call it a Freudian slip or just a moment of candor, it was interesting to hear someone from the inside let us all in on how the industry views its customers – as prey.

This came out in a recent interview with the News Service of Florida. In it, Dunbar discussed the state’s longstanding rejection of Vegas-style resort casinos — something the industry has sought in this state for decades.

Because of that prohibition, he said, “you arguably have the kind of gambling that you don’t want to have, the kind that preys primarily on your constituents, as opposed to the tourists.’’

It’s an interesting argument to make to state lawmakers – fleece the tourists to spare your voters. Perhaps it would be an argument some might buy if there was any validity to it.

But it’s a fake choice.

Before getting into that, however, let’s deal with the part of Dunbar’s statement that is accurate.

Casinos do indeed prey on customers. And the most effective method they have for doing so is with high-tech, digital slot machines. Researchers have documented that these machines create a fast-paced, immersive environment in which gamblers lose track of time and losses.

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology documented the phenomenon in the book, “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.”

These machines entrap those prone to become problem gamblers, who in turn represent a significant slice of casino revenues. This is why pari-mutuels throughout Florida are pushing so hard to get slot machines.

So, Dunbar’s comparison of customers to prey is appropriate. Where he runs afoul of both research and reality is the premise that bigger and splashier casinos will target tourists instead of locals.

The Spectrum Gaming Group, hardly an anti-gambling organization, looked at this issue in a comprehensive $400,000 study of the Florida gambling market. Spectrum calculated that if Florida expanded gambling, including major resorts in South Florida, only 5 percent of revenue would be from non-residents and 95 percent from seasonal and permanent residents. Since the money spent at casinos would not, in effect, be new money coming into the state, Spectrum concluded that any impact on the economy would be minimal at best.

State economists have hit on the same point in their analysis. More casinos simply would redirect how residents spend their money – putting it in slot machines as opposed to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant or other such activities. (Florida EDR presentation, March 26, 2015, slide 1)

In fact, what we see going on across the country is rapid casino expansion and a dwindling customer base. As more casinos go up, they cannibalize each other’s customers, creating declining revenues and, in the cases of Atlantic City and Tunica, Mississippi, devastating crashes.

Outside of Las Vegas, casinos are not a big tourism draw.

According to the Spectrum report, you basically can draw concentric circles around a casino with the densest concentration of customers coming from the inner circles, and thinning out thereafter.

That this is well documented begs the question of who does Dunbar think he is fooling or, more interestingly, why. Dunbar has invested in a gambling enterprise run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is hoping to build a “resort’’ casino west of Tallahassee in the small, impoverished city of Gretna.

It would include 2,000 slot machines, the current legal limit. The “resort” label would appear to indicate that tourists are the intended targets. But given that proposed casinos in a tourist-draw like South Florida wouldn’t draw in any significant revenue from tourists, one has to wonder how one in the rural Panhandle would pull it off.

Rather than draw in tourists, convenience casinos like Gretna simply focus on maximizing revenue within their respective concentric circles. The idea that a casino that would draw nearly all of its revenue from locals could somehow be a benefit to a local community seems like the worst kind of snake oil peddled by those with ulterior motives. In this case, what may seem to some to appear to be a lifesaver is, in reality, an anchor.

Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court recently unanimously against the Gretna gambling interests in their attempt to circumvent the Florida Legislature and Florida Constitution in building their slots casino. Unfortunately, this simply means Dunbar and his gambling allies simply will be back for another fierce round of lobbying and backroom dealing in the next legislative session.

A steadfast no is the only response.

Whether we’re talking about the Florida Panhandle or downtown Miami, there is no magical pot of gold at the end of the gambling rainbow – just more local prey to be had.

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John Sowinski, a native of Fort Pierce, is President of NoCasinos.org, Orlando.

Dennis Ross: Giving community banks, credit unions Financial CHOICE

This week, the House of Representatives will consider an important financial reform package, known as the Financial CHOICE Act, which provides desperately needed relief to community financial institutions from the harmful, complex and excessive regulatory environment created by the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law by President Obama in July 2010, was more than 2,000 pages long and directed federal regulators to implement more than 400 new rules and regulations to reform our financial system.

When the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, it was sold to the American people as a solution to the financial crisis that would hold Wall Street banks and bad actors in the financial services arena accountable.

In the years since its enactment, however, big banks have grown larger, and small banks and credit unions across Central Florida and the rest of the country have suffered. In fact, community financial institutions are disappearing at an average rate of one per day. This is because the large Wall Street banks are the only ones with the manpower and resources to navigate the complex Dodd-Frank regulatory environment.

In addition, as a Member of the House Financial Services Committee, I am distressed by the anemic economic growth our country has experienced in the wake of the financial crisis.

In May 2015, the American Action Forum estimated the Dodd-Frank Act would reduce U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $895 billion between 2016 and 2025. In 2016, the U.S. saw only 1.6 percent GDP growth. The impact the Dodd-Frank Act is having on our GDP is not only affecting Wall Street banks and financial institutions, it is harming hard-working blue-collar families across Central Florida and the Tampa Bay Region.

To reverse this trend, and instead grow our economy and provide relief to community banks and credit unions from the crushing burden of over-regulation, I am proud to support the Financial CHOICE Act.

This legislation protects taxpayers, ends bank bailouts, empowers investors and holds government bureaucracies accountable. It makes it easier for hardworking Americans to save and invest for retirement, college and their futures. Importantly, this legislation increases access to, and reduces the cost of, credit for families that want to purchase a home or start a business. Finally, the Financial CHOICE Act holds Wall Street accountable and increases civil and criminal penalties for financial fraud and insider trading to their highest levels in history.

The Financial CHOICE Act is just what we need to jump-start our economy and provide more hope and opportunity for Floridians and all Americans.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

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