As a part of my role as president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, I have the fortune of traveling the great state of Florida probably more than anyone except Gov. DeSantis. Every week, I have the privilege of speaking to a variety business, philanthropic, and policy leaders on Florida’s economy, areas in which we are leading the nation (and world), and what challenges we still must overcome as we work to build Florida into the 10th largest economy in the globe by 2030.
Inevitably, as a part of these conversations, the topic of money comes up. Whether it be partners asking me if we should put more money into this program, or articles citing that my perceived advocacy for more investment in that system, the conversation always seems to come back to a push to spend more.
Here’s the problem, the last thing we should be talking about is money. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense you as a reader may be taking it, I mean it literally, it is the last step we should take as we work to overcome some of the challenges Florida faces.
Take early learning for example. Through the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2030 Blueprint, we have set a goal to improve early learning outcomes and are striving to ensure 100% of kindergarteners are “kindergarten ready.” Now, there is a lot that can be done to help meet this goal. For one, we know that those kindergarteners that have previously participated in, and completed, Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) are far more likely to be “kindergarten ready.” In fact, only 37% of those that did not complete VPK are “kindergarten ready” compared to 62% of those that did complete VPK. Yet, even with this proven success, only 49% of Florida’s kindergarteners are matriculating through VPK.
If we know this is a path toward progress, how do we create systems to ensure 100% of students are able to attend VPK programs in Florida. Sure, funding will be a discussion, but now that we have identified a potential solution, how much? Also, what else can be done? Are there cumbersome regulations impacting providers, challenges around transportation to and from facilities, a lack of awareness among employers and the parents they employ, teacher shortages, not enough coopetition between private and public providers, etc.?
As you start to work through the challenges we face, we get a clearer picture of the fact that we don’t need to just deploy resources, but we need to target our actions in tactics and strategies that deliver results, not just more money.
And this isn’t just a discussion of early learning, the same can be said for several challenges throughout Florida. Take R&D (research and development) funding, our 2030 Blueprint has set a goal to ensure Florida is a top 3 state for R&D funding, however, we currently rank 14 in absolute terms.
The difference between 14 and 3 is about $33 billion per year, so the math is simple right? Invest another $33 billion into our system and we’re there, right? But of course, that is not a very feasible solution. Instead, how do we leverage our top ranked higher education system, growing sectors in the fields of advanced manufacturing and the sciences, and geographic advantages only available in Florida to better position ourselves for more funding that generates breakthroughs that can be commercialized and leveraged for job and wealth creation right here in Florida?
The Florida Chamber Foundation has become a resource to many throughout Florida, leading on issues related to economic prosperity, education, and community development. Our tools, research, and expertise has helped guide Florida since the launch of the Florida 2030 Blueprint, and during that time, Florida has experienced unprecedented economic expansion.
To keep this momentum, we absolutely need to invest in projects and programs that will support economic growth in every community throughout Florida. All I ask, let’s discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and what solutions are available, then we can talk about the money necessary to get the best ROI on taxpayer investments.
Mark Wilson is President & CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce
This story was originally published with the Tallahassee Democrat.