As the Chief Economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation, my job is to look two to thirty years toward the future and map out the challenges and opportunities facing Florida. Through the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Six Pillar Framework, businesses can take an active part in measuring Florida’s progress toward creating economic prosperity and high wage jobs, remaining globally competitive, and fueling vibrant and sustainable economies.
It’s in the spirit of measuring our state’s progress that the Chamber Foundation has dedicated the past two years to research known as Florida 2030. This project, led by Florida’s business community, is a once-in-a-decade strategic plan for Florida that goes beyond our state’s immediate needs and instead asks, what does Florida need to do between now and 2030 to remain competitive, to continue to grow and succeed, and to protect our state’s unique quality of life?
In this process, the Florida Chamber Foundation has visited all 67 counties in Florida and has received input from more than 10,000 community, industry and business leaders. And from our research we can see two main things. First, most Floridians have a positive outlook on the future of our state. Second, the quality of life we have in Florida is a reason many people came here and is a definite competitive advantage that Florida enjoys over other states.
Preserving Florida’s quality of life is not only important to the people that live here now – it will be an even more important part of securing Florida’s future. The question then becomes – how can we be competitive and also pass on a state that can sustain itself to future generations?
We should invest in our people.
One way we can do this is to help ensure economic opportunity. This can be done by creating opportunities for better education and training and working to retain the Floridians we train. Better access to opportunities helps create a labor force that allows Florida businesses to expand and attracts more high-wage jobs to our state.
But, according to our recent Less Poverty, Through More Prosperity report, Florida is home to nearly 870,000 kids under age 18 who live in poverty. Most recent data shows that in Volusia County alone there are 18,188 kids living in poverty – that’s one out of every 5 kids. Research shows that children growing up in poverty are more likely to never finish high school, more likely to have a disability, more likely to never improve their economic circumstance, and more likely to stay in the cycle of generational poverty.
Nearly 1 in 5 Florida high school students will not graduate from high school this year. And in Volusia County, of the 4,760 kids in the cohort that could have graduated from high school in 2017, 1,141 did not graduate with their peers. While some will graduate, get GEDs, go on to higher education or get workforce training – many are already behind their peers and many never catch up.
There’s a reason these statistics matter to our state.
During a recent speech that I gave to Florida’s business leaders, I told this story – if you could only give me two data points to predict the future of any county in Florida I would pick the high school graduation rate and the under-18 poverty rate. The reason I chose those two data points is that improvements in these two numbers will predict improvements in many other numbers including, but not limited to, education levels, poverty levels, disability numbers and future workforce readiness.
Florida’s businesses are the key to finding the solution.
In the case of creating economic prosperity and breaking the generational cycle of poverty, Florida’s business community understands that children in poverty today are the workforce of the future. Smart investments today to help break the cycle of poverty can result in multiple generations becoming self-sufficient.
Research also shows us that the path with the highest probability way to wealth is for people to create their own businesses. If we could train more people in entrepreneurship, we could grow more jobs in every region in our state. Instead of training people to get jobs, our future may require a higher emphasis on training people to create their own jobs.
When I analyze our economy and think about our path toward the future, I often think about what type of state we will be leaving to the next generation. What I have concluded is that when we improve the level of knowledge, entrepreneurship, and skills of Floridians to the point where companies don’t need to look anywhere else – that’s when we know we have been successful and that Florida’s future will continue to be bright. Florida 2030 is the research lighting the path toward solutions. Florida’s businesses community has shown up and is taking a leading role in investing in making our future brighter.