To say the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s expectations for the future of the state is sunny would be an understatement. The organization representing business interests here has declared the theme of this year’s Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum to be the buoyant “Florida: As Good as Gold.”
The agenda for the event is chockablock with sessions and panels covering a wide variety of topics of interest to business leaders. Some are perennial subjects, such as transportation, safety and what Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson calls Florida’s “lawsuit abuse bonanza.”
Others cover the challenges and opportunities presented by Florida’s phenomenal growth and the accelerating pace of change in the areas of affordable housing, economic development, space, workforce, transportation, supply chain, education, election trends and children.
Set for Oct. 24-25 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, the forum kicks off with a “state of the state” message from Wilson. He’ll wrap it up with a look at Florida’s future.
The Florida Chamber Foundation made a commitment to the state’s future when it unveiled “Florida 2030: The Blueprint to Secure Florida’s Future” in 2019, featuring lists of goals and strategies the Chamber has been chipping away at ever since. Wilson said Chamber economists predict over the next eight years, Florida will add 3.5 million more people requiring 1.62 million more jobs. Expect 50 million more annual visitors and 3 million more drivers on the roadways.
“It is essential to get this right,” he said.
“The entire Florida 2030 blueprint is based on knowing that this is the direction we’re headed. How do we design roads the right way? How do we make sure freight happens the right way? How do we do affordable housing?
“If police officers and nurses and first responders can’t afford to live in the communities that they serve and protect, then we have a crisis. So how do we design communities? How do we do education? How do we fix our broken legal climate? How do we make sure all of this works together in a way that we can manage the growth?”
At the forum, the Florida Chamber will unveil an updated version of its Florida Gap Map. The interactive website will offer users more than 100 metrics and data points zeroed in down to the zip code level. The original version could pinpoint the percentage of children living in poverty in each ZIP code. And by clicking on individual schools, one can find the exact number of children who are not reading at a third-grade level and a school’s reading score.
“It’s probably the single most powerful online tool that has ever existed to combat childhood poverty and to improve third grade reading scores,” Wilson said, noting that lowering the number of poor children and boosting their achievement isn’t a feel-good altruistic effort for Florida businesses.
“These are our future workers. One way Florida can compete over the next 20 or 30 years is, what if we had 100% of kindergarteners ready for kindergarten and they were ready to learn? And then what if 100% of our third graders could read at or above grade level? No other state in the country could compete with us.”
Registration for the day-and-a-half long event is now $559. For $399, participants can opt to attend via livestream. “We have a lot of customers who are taking that option. … I think we’re gonna be in the hybrid event business for at least a decade,” Wilson said.