Ed Moore: Aiming toward a competitive future for Florida

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We live in a competitive world. Companies compete for our attention as consumers, and each state competes with all the others to entice those companies to move to their state.

However, for Florida to attract new businesses, we must better market Florida domestically, nationally and globally.

Florida’s low taxes and natural resources attract new residents, tourists and business people who are seeking the best location in America. Our challenge is to enhance, preserve and manage the state wisely for the 20 million people who live here today, the millions more who will move here in the decades ahead, and the hundreds of millions of tourists who visit each year.

So, maybe we should modify that marketing strategy.  To really market Florida well, we need to stress location, assets and education. We need to change some misconceptions about our state.

Florida is already a great economic development location to market.  Our full-time population and nearly 100 million visitors per year provide a strong customer market.  Our highways and railroad are efficient.

Florida’s 15 ports and 16 international airports and spaceports provide easy access to Europe, Africa, South America and Central America. We are upgrading of our ports so that we will be able to take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal.

But we must do better.

For example, General Electric recently chose to move its headquarters from Connecticut to Massachusetts. Both states have high taxes. But the company’s decision shows that executives are looking for more than lower taxes. They want innovation hubs and quality schools.

Florida’s 30 nonprofit independent colleges and universities of Florida (ICUF), of which I serve as president, should be considered a component of the state’s marketing pitch as well as our public colleges and universities.

ICUF schools have 35,000 employees, operating budgets totaling $5.5 billion and $10 billion of assets.  These schools have 150 Florida educational sites, awarding nearly one-third of Florida bachelor’s and advanced degrees.

ICUF schools bring more than 60,000 out-of-state students and their families to Florida as temporary residents and tourists.  Many stay in Florida after graduation.

As a state, we must find ways to enhance our assets.  Beach renourishment, spring improvements, estuary maintenance and other water-related management activities are crucial to making Florida more appealing.

The state also should better promote the state’s education programs and enhance them so companies will be able to easily find Floridians with the skills the companies need.

There soon will be 5 million students in our educational systems. We need schools that will produce graduates who will perform well in challenging jobs.

Further, we need to make it easier for business people to collaborate with our schools. To do that, we need two innovative tactics:  Coordinating and Consulting.

Coordinating — Florida’s schools and business people should routinely coordinate to align courses to attract new national and global businesses and to expand the ones already here.

This now occurs in a piecemeal fashion. When Gov. Rick Scott’s team was preparing a proposal to lure a national aerospace corporation to the state, the Florida Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Florida School of Engineering were enlisted to design a training program that would dovetail with the company’s needs. The proposal succeeded and Northrup-Grumman picked Melbourne for its new facility.

Consulting — Florida’s educators should regularly consult with the state’s employers to identify high-demand/under-supplied degrees. These consultations should lead to recruitment and production strategies to remedy shortages.

Awareness of possibilities, though, needs to start at the middle school level so students are aware of educational options early in their school careers. They need to grow up thinking that Florida is their land of opportunity.

Florida is superbly located to be economically successful. With over 1 million new jobs created over the past six years, we can easily see how attractive our state is to people from other places.

Florida educators teaming with economic development leaders can make Florida the premier economic development state in the nation.

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Dr. Ed H. Moore resides in Tallahassee and is perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.

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