Tony Carvajal says he wants to find a way to get poor families out of poverty within a generation.
That’s the lofty goal Carvajal led with as the Florida Chamber Foundation kicked off its 2019 Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity. The event is being held in West Palm Beach at the Palm Beach Convention Center.
Carvajal serves as the group’s Executive Vice President. The Foundation serves as the research organization for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. As the two-day summit began Wednesday morning, Carvajal ran through the overall goals of the gathering.
“This is a conversation about having opportunities and not having them foreclosed simply because of where you live, what you look like, what your family did before you,” Carvajal said.
“This is about the path forward.”
He started by discussing “the stickiness of the ends” when it comes to individuals’ wealth.
“Forty percent of those folks that start in the bottom quartile of economic wealth end there,” Carvajal said.
“Forty percent of the population that starts at the top ends there. There is mobility and motion, and yes there are people moving up the economic mobility ladder. But not everyone does. What are the things that are causing that?”
Carvajal himself saw the possibility of the mobility firsthand. His parents came to the U.S. from Cuba with little to their name. Yet Carvajal was able to succeed, building a national consulting firm and eventually taking a role at the Florida Chamber Foundation.
Carvajal credited Will Weatherford and Mark Wilson with helping train the organization’s eye on these types of discussions surrounding ways to address the state’s poverty levels. He says that’s the goal of this two-day meeting.
Wilson is the President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Weatherford is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives who went on to co-found Weatherford Capital, a private equity firm, and now sits on the Florida Chamber’s Board of Directors.
Among the featured speakers at the summit are Feeding Florida Executive Director Robin Safley, Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson, and Rep. Paul Renner of House District 24. Talks will focus on 10 different topic areas including education, housing and child care, among others.
“Every zip code in Florida has poverty in it,” Carvajal said, citing the nearly 3 million Floridians living in poverty.
But while the issue is felt a little bit everywhere, it’s felt a lot in some places.
“In 20 zip codes, we have 10 percent of the poverty. In 179 of the zip codes … we have half of the poverty of Florida. This is not an insurmountable feat. We just have to point our armies in the right direction to tackle these things,” Carvajal argued.
“It is concentrated, but it is not an impossible thing to address. We just need to understand it a little bit better.”