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Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson is entering the new year with a sense of optimism about Florida’s economic future.
Though the pandemic rages on, and a subsequent uncertainty remains rooted within the business community, Wilson told attendees at the 2022 Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit there are many reasons they should stay confident of Florida’s direction.
“If Florida was a stock and we can keep the business community united, I would be investing as much as I could,” Wilson said in his opening address, later adding: “The kinds of problems we have in Florida are the kinds of problems that most countries and states wish that they had.”
Noting Florida as a “breakaway state,” Wilson credited Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership vision and leadership amid a resurgent pandemic.
Wilson, comparatively, also pointed out states such as California and New York. They, he said, manage economies very differently than Florida.
“Florida is at a crossroads, and we need to keep Florida, Florida,” Wilson added.
Indeed, there are reasons to keep spirits high. Florida in 2021 posted record numbers, particularly when compared to other states.
Wilson said Florida emerged last year as the 15th largest economy on earth, surpassing both Mexico and Saudi Arabia in GDP. Under the Chamber’s Florida 2030 Blueprint, the Chamber hopes Florida’s economy will grow to the 10th largest in the world by 2030.
Economists say that Florida’s economic growth is fueled by many factors, including a great migration of new residents into the state. According to data shared by the Chamber, Florida — home to nearly 22 million residents — nets about 1,000 newcomers every day.
“Florida has handled the pandemic remarkably well,” said Mark Vintner, Managing Director and Senior Economist at Wells Fargo. “The state took a pragmatic approach to dealing with the virus, protecting its most vulnerable citizens first and then allowing all businesses that could safely reopen to do so as soon as the lockdowns ended. Many other states prohibited certain businesses from the opening regardless of whether they could do so safely.”
Data shows the migration comes with strong financial benefits to the state. In terms of W2 income moving in and out of the state, Florida is netting $1.30 million of income per hour. In comparison, that total hovered near $989 in January 2020.
Most of the gained wealth, the Chamber data shows, mainly came from five states: New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Meanwhile, most residents leaving Florida are headed to North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Arizona.
“Florida is leading the country, and by the way, we’re leading by a country mile,” Wilson said.
Other optimistic figures show 56 of Florida’s 67 counties are reporting more jobs now than they did in February 2020. Nevertheless, Wilson still sees room for improvement.
Inflation, supply chain shortages, and a short-handed workforce are among the top concerns of the Chamber. Wilson contends that economic opportunity needs to exist for all to boost Florida into the ranks of the Top 10 largest economies.
Despite creating 25% of the nation’s new jobs in the last three months, Wilson noted that more than 829,000 kids in Florida live in poverty.
“We have to make sure as a responsible business community that as we grow (and) as we diversify, we need to make sure that we’re also focused on those that are born intergenerational poverty,” Wilson said, describing the solution as private investments rather than government programs.
The 2022 Legislative Session begins Jan. 11.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Christine Jordan Sexton, Tristan Wood and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
DeSantis: Jan. 6 is the media’s Christmas — On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, DeSantis lashed out at Democrats and the news media, saying they plan to use the day as an opportunity to “smear” supporters of President Donald Trump. “This is their Christmas,” he said. DeSantis characterized the D.C. and New York “journalist class” as obsessed with the incident. He argued the anniversary and ensuing news coverage would be a “politicized Charlie Foxtrot.” He also lambasted pundits and others who equate the riot to 9/11. “I don’t expect anything from the corporate press to be enlightening,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s going to be nauseating, quite frankly.”
Activist arrested before DeSantis news conference — One of the Governor’s many news conferences this week was delayed by Jacksonville activist and former journalist Ben Frazier, who showed up Wednesday, demanding to ask the Governor questions and refusing to leave. Frazier was handcuffed and brought to ground level, where two police officers put him in the back of a police car. “I have no idea what happened,” DeSantis told reporters after the incident. “The Governor is trying to silence people he doesn’t agree with, or who disagree with him,” Frazier said in an interview later that day. “It is extreme, radical, Republican right-wing politics.”
Health Department focuses on “high value” testing — Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo released COVID-19 testing guidance he says are meant to “maximize the benefits of COVID-19 testing in Florida.” The nonbinding guidance prioritizes testing for people at a high for severe infections while encouraging low-risk individuals without symptoms to forgo a test to save resources. The plan would help “unwind the testing psychology” the federal government has instilled in people, Ladapo said. The new guidelines coincide with the state’s purchase of 1 million at-home rapid tests reserved for high-risk individuals in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
DeSantis administration confirms tests expired — Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Director Kevin Guthrie on Thursday confirmed between 800,000 and 1 million rapid tests expired in late December while sitting unused in the state’s stockpile. DeSantis and Guthrie said there wasn’t demand for the tests over the last several months. However, cases began skyrocketing in the days before the tests expired. Health Department officials have been asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to extend the expiration date on the tests since November. But the DeSantis administration is still holding out hope. The Governor defended the state’s strategy and deflected blame to the federal government. “With how the fed stuff works, it’s always a struggle with anything you’re doing,” DeSantis added.
FPL, Simpson battle the Herald — After reports again highlighted Florida Power and Light executives’ involvement in the 2020 sham candidate scheme, FPL launched a webpage targeting the Miami Herald and its Tallahassee bureau chief, Mary Ellen Klas. The 1,000-word retort accuses Klas of a “historically anti-utility bias” following a separate story about rooftop solar legislation and net metering. FPL also published a previously unknown complaint Senate President Wilton Simpson sent to the Herald on Nov. 22. In the letter, Simpson accuses Klas of attempting to “pre-litigate the 2022 redistricting cycle.” The Herald’s executive editor, Monica Richardson, defended Klas against both FPL and Simpson. “That’s a journalist doing her job on behalf of Herald readers and the Florida community,” Richardson said.
On Wednesday, DeSantis announced that almost $10 million had been awarded to Osceola County and Valencia College to support semiconductor and other advanced technology manufacturing in Osceola County.
The award includes $6 million to assist with developing infrastructure connecting the county’s emerging NeoCity technology district with the county’s workforce, and $3.7 million to Valencia College to develop a new program that will train students in utilizing robotics technology for semiconductor manufacturing.
“Expanding domestic manufacturing capability is important for Florida and our nation,” DeSantis said. “The strategic investments we are making today will help bring microchip and semiconductor manufacturing back to our state at a time when the supply chains are more fragile than ever. Certainly, we cannot allow this important industry to become captive by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The funding comes from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, an economic development program designed to promote public infrastructure and workforce training across the state. Approximately $62 million of the Grant Fund’s $74 million 2021-2022 appropriated funds have been allocated.
Down the drain
DeSantis announced a $3.5 million grant to Lake Butler to improve the city’s wastewater collection and pumping system to mitigate damage from future storms.
The grant comes through the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program.
“My administration is dedicated to supporting projects that improve infrastructure, increase hurricane preparedness and elevate our rural communities,” DeSantis said. “This investment in Lake Butler will benefit the entire community’s residents, businesses and surrounding natural resources.”
The DEO program allows local governments to develop large-scale infrastructure projects to make communities more resilient to future disasters. In Lake Butler, this multiyear and multi-phased wastewater collection system repair and replacement will improve and harden a master pump station, wastewater force main, and provide emergency generators for six pump stations.
The proposed improvements will help ensure the sewer and pumping systems remain fully operational during severe weather or natural disasters and prevent wastewater spills. Roughly 1,785 Lake Butler residents will benefit from the projects.
“Making investments in Florida’s infrastructure helps prepare communities like Lake Butler for unpredictable disasters,” DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said. “I am proud to stand with Gov. DeSantis as he continues to ensure a resilient future for our state and future generations.”
New Year, same scams
Attorney General Ashley Moody is cautioning Floridians undertaking New Year’s resolutions to be aware of scammers that may target those with big goals.
Since resolutions are commonly shared among citizens, fraudsters can easily predict targets to rip off; Moody advises Floridians to be alert when purchasing memberships, products or services to help achieve common resolutions.
“The beginning of a new year is a popular time to set goals but do your research before signing up for memberships or purchasing products to help you succeed,” Moody said. “Scammers may try to exploit the situation to sell unproven products or just flat-out steal your personal or financial information.”
To report a New Year’s resolution scam, contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at MyFloridaLegal.com.
Human Trafficking Prevention Month
Moody released a video Wednesday recognizing National Human Trafficking Prevention Month by highlighting resources to help Floridians spot and report the crime.
According to the most recent study by Polaris, Florida ranks third highest in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The latest data shows more than 700 trafficking cases reported to the hotline from Florida in 2020.
“Human trafficking is an atrocious crime, and if we are going to end this illicit practice in Florida, it will take all of us working together,” Moody said. “In recognition of this important month, I am calling on Floridians to learn the signs of human trafficking and how to alert law enforcement to suspicious behavior.”
She also provided a list of some potential signs to identify that someone might be a victim of human trafficking:
— Seeming to be under the control of another individual;
— Responding as if coached, or letting someone else speak for them;
— Acting fearful, anxious or paranoid;
— Displaying branding scars, burns, tattoos or having serious dental issues; and
— Being malnourished, disoriented, confused, or showing other signs of physical abuse.
To report an occurrence or suspicion of human trafficking, contact local law enforcement and call the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s human trafficking number at 1 (800) 342-0820 and the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.
To learn more about spotting and reporting human trafficking, visit YouCanStopHT.com.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
The Attorney General’s office handed down yet another scam warning this week, this time COVID-19 related scams.
Such grifts seem to surge alongside case numbers, if Moody’s warning is any indication. Her office said scammers seek to capitalize on the omicron surge and the subsequent need for tests.
Officials, Mood added, are already receiving reports of COVID-19 test scams. In many cases, swindlers create fake COVID-19 test sites or pose as health care workers at legitimate sites.
“As we have seen throughout the pandemic, scammers change tactics as news and situations change,” Moody said. “With the recent rise in the number of people seeking COVID-19 tests comes an increased risk that scammers will try to take advantage of the demand.”
Moody urged Floridians to follow several tips to help protect themselves and loved ones.
Test-seekers, she said, should only purchase products from a legitimate store or website. They should also be wary of private companies that require personal information at the time of sign-up but don’t guarantee an appointment.
Fake COVID-19 testing sites, Moody added, typically involve unmasked and seemingly uninformed employees. They also boast no affiliation with local medical providers or government entities.
“Please take precautions to protect your personal information when seeking a test — whether at a legitimate site or when purchasing an at-home test,” she said.
To watch reports of Moody’s scam alert, click on the image below:
Feed the pig
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis urges Floridians to prioritize financial savings in the New Year.
With New Year’s Day marking the start of Financial Wellness Month, Patronis said there’s no better time to “feed your piggy bank” than now.
“The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to conduct a financial checkup and outline your savings goals and commit to putting money aside for retirement, college tuition, or in an emergency fund,” Patronis said. “By saving a little each month, tackling debt, creating a budget, and avoiding fraud and scams, Florida families can have the peace of mind that they are reaching their financial goals and their future is secure no matter what financial emergency comes your way.”
Floridians can boost their savings by following several safety tips promoted by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Patronis said.
He encouraged Floridians to start a written budget that should note the differences between fixed expenses, wants and needs.
“Creating a written budget and tracking spending is one of the best ways to save money and stop spending more than what is earned,” Patronis said.
Floridians should also inventory existing credit cards. Patronis encouraged budgeters to contact credit card companies and inquire about balance transfers to cards with lower interest rates.
“Credit cards are known to have high-interest rates, and this can cost you a lot of money over time,” Patronis added.
Not least, Patronis and the BBB urge consumers to be vigilant in avoiding scams. A quick check of the BBB Scam Tracker is a good first step toward avoiding heartache.
Who to hire?
The Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board received 22 applications after advertising an opening for an executive director.
On Friday, the FHIAB Executive Director Selection Committees agreed to interview the seven candidates it considered most qualified for the job, including registered lobbyist Ashlee Tising and Florida HealthyKids Corporation Director of Corporate Initiatives Jack McDermott.
In addition to Tising and McDermott, the committee agreed to interview Bill Eichhoefer, Cathy Nelson, John Trombetta and Keith Dean.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, which houses FHIAB, did not provide Florida Politics with the candidates’ applications.
Selection committee members did agree to have three more meetings before voting on which candidate it will recommend to the full FHIAB.
Two meetings will be dedicated to interviewing the candidates. The selection committee will discuss the interviews and vote on a recommendation to the entire board.
Created in statute, the FHIAB serves as an advisory role on health insurance issues to the Legislature, the Office of Insurance Regulation, AHCA, the Department of Financial Services, and other executive departments.
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
Northern District of Florida U.S. Attorney — Acting U.S. Attorney Jason Coody will remain at the helm of the Northern District of Florida for at least the next four months. On Dec. 26, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed the former Valdosta police officer to serve the next 120 days or until a permanent U.S. Attorney is nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Biden has not yet selected a nominee. In September, the Federal Judicial Nomination Commission put forward Winifred Acosta and Rod Smith as finalists for the leadership position. Acosta is a criminal appeals attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee. Smith is a former lawmaker, former State Attorney for Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit Court, and former chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
The Florida Highway Patrol reminds motorists to move over or slow down when they see emergency lights.
The reminder is more than a suggestion — it’s the law. In 2021 alone, state officials recorded 191 crashes and issued more than 14,000 citations to motorists for failing to move over in Florida.
“Crashes that occur because of a driver that failed to move over are completely preventable; they take our officers and members of our communities away from their families, who gave freely to make Florida a safer place to live and travel,” said Terry Rhodes, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
According to a news release, troopers will ramp up enforcement of the move over law for all of January. They also encourage motorists to report aggressive or dangerous drivers by dialing *FHP (*347).
“Florida Troopers put their lives on the line each and every day on our roadways,” said Col. Gene Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Please remember to Move Over for all our first responders and critical service providers, so they can return home safely to their families at the end of the day.”
All 50 states have some sort of move-over law on the books. More information about Florida’s law is available online.
Off the ropes
For the second year in a row, Sen. Annette Taddeo and Rep. Emily Slosberg have filed legislation that would make it illegal to tether an unattended cat or dog.
If the legislation (SB 1508/HB 1075) becomes law, the owner of an unattended tethered dog or cat will get a warning for the first offense, a $250 fine for the second, and a $500 fine for every offense after that.
“When dogs are tied up for 24/7, it makes them more aggressive and extremely dangerous,” Taddeo said. “We’ve had several incidents where kids have been killed because they got near a dog that was tied up. One kid’s death should be enough for us to do something about it, let alone multiple ones.”
The legislation is titled the Penny Bautista Act. It is named after the puppy that was found abandoned, eating trash at a Tampa area cemetery with a metal chain embedded in her neck. The puppy was rescued and later adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa by former professional wrestler and actor Dave Bautista.
“As a dog lover, Floridian and adopter of Penny, a dog who has been horribly victimized by the cruelty of being chained, I am in full support of Senate Bill 1508 and House Bill 1075 to ban this inhumane practice,” said Bautista.
Florida TaxWatch has a list of priorities prepared for the 2022 Session, topped by four main points the budget watchdogs hope to promote on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers.
The priorities include maintaining discipline and accountability in the budget process, particularly in allocating federal COVID-19 funds; addressing adverse tax policies; investing in programs and infrastructure to keep Florida competitive; and focusing on critical health, human services and employment needs spurred by the pandemic.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida is in an enviable fiscal condition,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.
“To preserve this momentum in 2022, Florida TaxWatch is hopeful the Legislature will concentrate on specific measures that our research has proved will benefit communities, businesses and the state economy overall,” he continued.
In nearly two years, Florida has received tens of billions of federal stimulus dollars in pandemic relief from the federal government, and more is coming down soon. While Calabro acknowledged there is legitimate concern about how the spending will impact the national deficit and whether Florida has received its fair share, he said the state is in a strong financial condition and has an opportunity to focus investments into targeted strategies that position the state for future growth.
Among the taxes TaxWatch hopes to limit is a corporate tax increase scheduled to raise about $1 billion this year, to 5.5%. A proposed consumer data privacy law could also overburden businesses, in TaxWatch’s opinion, if it goes through without changes to the legal mechanisms behind it.
In Florida’s competitiveness, TaxWatch stresses promoting tourism, business recruitment, economic development and workforce development. The think tank also encourages continued support for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA.
The organization also wants lawmakers to extend COVID-19 liability, make telehealth more accessible and help fix health care workforce shortages.
On Thursday, the Florida Park Service and Florida State Parks Foundation gave Rep. Anika Omphroy a tour of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park along Fort Lauderdale’s coast.
The visit was to brief the local Democrat about new developments at the park and discuss issues affecting all of Florida’s 175 award-winning parks and trails ahead of the upcoming Legislative Session. Omphroy is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the top Democrat on the Agricultural and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
“Our state parks form the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation and deliver invaluable cultural, economic, and social benefits to our state,” Omphroy said. “That is why my commitment to preserving and protecting Florida’s natural heritage is unwavering.”
Yesterday, had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful Hugh Taylor Burch State Park. I commend the entire park staff and the legacy of the Organic Act of 1916 for continuing to fuel my passion and commitment to protecting Florida’s natural heritage. @FLStateParksFdn @FLStateParks pic.twitter.com/4faYSPdn32
— Anika Omphroy (@RepOmphroy) January 7, 2022
According to the State Parks Foundation, the Representative has long been a champion of the environment, with a particular interest in preventing further development west into the Everglades and addressing the threat of saltwater intrusion into the South Florida aquifer.
“We appreciate Representative Omphroy spending time at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and for her commitment to our state parks and trails,” said Florida State Parks Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.
The 175-acre Hugh Taylor Birch State Park attracts more than 285,000 visitors a year. It generates more than $25.6 million for the state’s economy and supports 359 local jobs.
“Our parks are not only natural treasures, but they are also economic generators as well. Our award-winning state parks attract 24 million visitors from around the world, have an economic impact on the state of $2.2 billion, and support more than 31,000 jobs,” Woodward said.
Wheelchair service, Part II
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park isn’t the only state park getting a little boost. Thanks to a small grant, Myakka River State Park will soon have an all-terrain wheelchair for visitors.
The William G. and Marie Selby Foundation donated $2,300 to purchase the wheelchair and the trailer to transport it, both of which will be available for free to visitors upon request.
“The Florida State Parks Foundation is thrilled to utilize this grant to purchase this special wheelchair that enables visitors who use mobility devices to fully experience the scenic beauty of Myakka River State Park,” said Foundation President Tammy Gustafson.
The park is located about 20 miles south of downtown Sarasota. The 37,000-acre park is one of the oldest and largest parks in Florida.
“The Selby Foundation is pleased to be a partner on this very important project that will increase accessibility for so many to enjoy the beauty and joy of nature,” said Carol Butera, president and CEO of The William G. and Marie Selby Foundation.
The Florida State Parks Foundation supports and helps sustain the Florida Park Service, its 175 award-winning parks and trails, local Friends groups and more than 20,000 park volunteers. It does so through programs that preserve and protect state parks, educate visitors about the value of state parks, encourage community engagement and active use of state parks, and advocacy.
The City of Tallahassee is sponsoring a series of free community celebrations honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. begins the week leading up to the holiday celebrating his legacy.
The events begin on Jan. 13 with the unveiling of three new historical markers that recognize the local Civil Rights Movement and its national ties. The unveiling ceremony will be at 9:30 a.m. at the Frenchtown Heritage Hub.
On Jan. 15, at 10 a.m., the city holds a formal renaming and dedication ceremony for Dr. Charles L. Evans Pond Park. The renaming is honoring the late Dr. Charles L. Evans, a local civil rights advocate and President Emeritus of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP.
On Jan. 17, the city will be hosting events all day in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
— The annual NAACP March from C.K. Steele Plaza to the Capitol will run from 9/11 a.m.
— Vendors featuring food, arts, crafts will fill the MLK Day Festival along Adams Street from City Hall to the Chain of Parks from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
— The City’s inaugural MLK Jr. Day Parade kicks off at 12:30 p.m. The parade route begins at Call Street and heads south.
— From 2:30-3:30 p.m., the city will be hosting a diverse group of panelists for a discussion at its annual Day of Dialogue event on Adams Street.
— Live entertainment by community groups and Tallahassee Nights Live will be onstage near City Hall From 3:30-6 p.m.
Participants in all events are encouraged to follow CDC guidance for masks and social distancing.
An updated agreement between Florida State University and the City of Tallahassee will double the amount of solar-generated electricity the university can draw from the city for the next 15 years.
The move marks an extension and expansion of terms FSU agreed to in 2018 as part of its participation in the City of Tallahassee Solar Program and allows the university to tap solar power from two city-owned solar farms.
FSU vice president for Finance and Administration Kyle Clark said the agreement marks another step toward sustainability for the university.
“FSU is excited to expand its participation in the city’s optional solar program and affirm our commitment to campus sustainability,” he said. “The university is always looking for ways to be a better steward of natural resources and improve our carbon footprint.”
Preliminary projections from FSU Facilities anticipate that a total of 30% of campus energy consumption will come from solar as early as next year, a fivefold leap from when the agreement was first signed in 2018.
The agreement secures the last of the city’s available solar capacity for the near future.
People of the Year
Florida A&M University COVID-19 Testing Site workers were named the Tallahassee Democrat’s 2021 Person of the Year to recognize their dedication and efforts in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
“The Person of the Year honor goes to all those who dedicate their time to make sure the FAMU COVID-19 testing site at 2507 Wahnish Way runs smoothly, rain or shine, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.,” the Democrat wrote. “Through alpha, delta and now omicron, there’s a place people know they can count on to get accurate, reliable and speedy COVID-19 test results.”
Early on during the pandemic, FAMU President Larry Robinson approached FAMU Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Public Health Cynthia Harris about opening a testing facility on campus to meet the needs of residents on Tallahassee’s southside. The site first opened on April 25, 2020.
“This is a tremendous honor for FAMU and our COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site. So many people have contributed to its success, in particular Dr. Cynthia Harris and Tanya Tatum, who has served on the front line from day one,” Robinson said. “The COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site exemplifies FAMU’s commitment to the health and well-being of Tallahassee and Leon County as well as our neighboring communities.”
The site’s use has ebbed and flowed since the start of the pandemic, but more than 500,000 tests have been conducted since the site’s opening. Amid the current COVID-19 spike in Leon County, the site tested 3,835 people on Monday.
“This recognition shows the need for service to our community in addressing the coronavirus,” Harris said. “As a team, we will continue to be committed to providing testing, especially for those who may not have other options.