The Big Picture on Economic Growth
From his desk in Jacksonville, Aundra Wallace takes a broader perspective on economic growth than most people. As president of the JAXUSA Partnership, it’s part of the job description. But that 50,000-foot view doesn’t obscure realities on the ground for real people.
“When you think about any community, any region, it’s about people,” Wallace said. “And what is it people look for? People look for quality of life.”
A big piece of the quality-of-life puzzle is economic. Not just in terms of economic development but economic opportunity as well. For Wallace, that begins with what he calls meaningful employment.
“Meaningful employment is where the person is employed, which allows them to provide the lifestyle they seek, and they can afford the goods and services they want from a family perspective,” he said. “It’s something that you want to do, that’s meaningful. In order for you to get up and do it every day, it has to be meaningful to you.”
Having a skilled workforce that can fill those meaningful jobs is key not only to quality of life but also to economic growth.
“If you have the talented, skilled workforce in your area, then companies can come to your area and they will be able to establish businesses there,” Wallace said. “If you don’t have the talented labor force, they are not coming.”
But it takes more than a ready, willing and able workforce. Managing growth and providing the necessary infrastructure to support and sustain growth are also key pieces of the economic puzzle.
That, too, begins with people, finding out how they want the community to progress, Wallace said, including good parks and recreation strategies, arts and entertainment and economic development strategies as well as transportation.
“All of these things, along with infrastructure plans, are part of responsible growth,” he said. “What you don’t want to do is be in a position where the growth took place faster than your infrastructure can keep up with it.”
Wallace said not all residents see economic growth the same and often don’t differentiate between different kinds of growth.
“There’s what people consider residential growth and there is economic development growth,” he said. “In my experience, people are always receptive to economic development growth. With residential growth, as long as the growth doesn’t impact people, then people are usually okay.”
From that broader regional view, Wallace said there is a lot going on in the seven Northeast Florida counties that comprise the JAXUSA Partnership.
“The suburban counties are seeing growth, both in population and economic,” he said, citing a bottling facility project and marine equipment company in Clay County, projects in Baker County and several accomplishments in Flagler County, including Boston Whaler and Palm Coast earning the gigabyte city designation.
Wallace said overall, economic growth is a positive for the region, but it requires public and private entities working together to achieve a common goal.
“If you don’t have economic growth, your community doesn’t grow,” he said. “Private investment follows public investment at the end of the day. If you are investing in yourself, you will see private investment.”