Jerry Parrish
Florida Chamber Foundation

by Dr. Jerry Parrish

As the Chief Economist at the Florida Chamber Foundation, I have the opportunity to help businesses get involved with programs that companies, their employees and their customers value. It helps not only the employees of those businesses, but it also attracts consumers that want to align with what those companies are doing. When I think about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and what is already going on in Florida, I know that many companies have been practicing CSR for years.

The charitable contributions that most Florida companies make – everything from cash donations to volunteering – have helped countless Floridians when they needed it the most. These contributions are needed and very valuable to communities, because neither government or the non-profit sectors can solve large social issues alone.  These contributions are especially valuable in these times, when the COVID pandemic has had a large effect on many in our communities and the largest effects have impacted the most vulnerable Floridians.

Corporate Social Responsibility is one of the things that sets businesses apart from their competition. Companies now understand that they can attract and retain a better workforce when employees appreciate the flexibility that employers provide, so that they can spend time helping a cause they believe in.  Whether it is allowing employees to use some of their work time volunteering, making donations to charity or letting employees know that their company is buying electricity from a company that has a clean emissions profile – these efforts make employees feel good about their employer and customers feel good about doing business with them.

In this time of nearly unlimited information, it is easy for customers to find out what companies do and what issues they care about.  Customers can choose to align themselves with those companies with similar interests and can feel good about doing business with them. Many customers are willing to pay more to companies that align with their social goals.  Another benefit of CSR is that talent gets developed and retained – the very thing employers need to perpetuate a virtuous cycle of community improvement. Companies know they are developing talent for all companies including their competitors, but this process betters everyone and makes Florida more globally competitive.

There are some companies that have not developed coordinated CSR programs and are looking to start one. I have found that most businesspeople want to improve their communities, but some of them do not know how to start. How we help those companies at the Florida Chamber Foundation starts with awareness.  Through our research for the Florida Chamber Foundation Prosperity Initiative we have identified the areas of Florida that can use help – whether it is a zip code, a specific school or a program that could use help to get Floridians out of poverty.

The Florida Chamber Foundation started our awareness program by producing and showing zip code level child poverty maps for every county in Florida.  Those maps are always available on the Florida Chamber website and are used in most every presentation to local chambers, economic development agencies, legislators and state agency personnel.

Recently, the Florida Chamber Foundation published the Florida Gap Map—a free interactive tool that shows every zip code in Florida, the number of kids in poverty, and the under-18 poverty rate.  It also shows the 3rdgrade reading score for every public school in Florida and the number of kids not reading at grade level at every school.  The Gap Mapis a tool that legislators, county and city commissioners, educators and non-profits can use to identify the schools and the areas with the most need in Florida.  We also list best practices that highlight programs with high success rates around the state that could be replicated in other areas.

The most interesting part of this process has been the alignment of businesses that wanted to get involved with the needs that exist.  Many companies are now working to change the trajectory of lives in our state, and we are able to highlight those organizations that have found ways to be successful.  While our efforts highlight education and training, companies care about other things as well, and consumers pay attention.  As consumers are paying more attention, this provides the opportunity to improve local communities and satisfy the need for consumers to contribute to solutions for social issues.

Business leaders understand that improving their communities benefits them – now the state and federal government need to understand the same.  Both the state and the federal government are better off when people become self-sufficient, and it should lead to modifying the benefit cliffs that disincentivize people from trying to do better for themselves and their families. This would create a tremendous amount of spending power and reduce the need for government services.

Even with all of the efforts that businesses are leading in our state, there is still more to do. Government, philanthropy and non-profits need the business community to help coordinate and reduce duplication of efforts. Now that the business community has a grasp on what needs to be done and the benefits of CSR programs, we all need to serve as leaders and build awareness among others for the greater good of Florida and its people.

Dr. Jerry D. Parrish is the Chief Economist and the Director of Research for the Florida Chamber Foundation. In that role, he is responsible for conducting in-depth analyses on the Florida economy and on solutions to help secure Florida’s future. Dr. Parrish is also an Adjunct Instructor in the Masters in Applied Economics Program at Florida State University. He regularly publishes research reports and articles on the Florida economy and Florida’s competitiveness.”