The Business Case for Economic Prosperity


Join the Initiative Learn More

In a recent blog post submitted to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center, the Florida Chamber Foundation discusses why businesses have the unique ability to help create economic prosperity.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s mission is a simple, yet significant one – to secure Florida’s future. Through our efforts to develop foundational research, inform and educate businesses, and convene business leaders and stakeholders in in-depth discussions, we work to identify the challenges and opportunities that Florida has not just today, but 20 or more years from now. In fact, this mission is the basis of our Florida 2030 research, which over the course of two years has taken us to all 67 counties in our state, where we heard from more than 10,000 Floridians on the issues that matter to them.

One of those issues? Economic prosperity.

Consider the following:

  • There are 28 counties in Florida with a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher.
  • 44 percent of Florida’s 7.5 million households cannot afford the basic needs.
  • More than 3 million Floridians live in poverty. Of those, more than 944,000 are kids under age 18.
  • If we don’t do something today, 133,329 additional children in Florida will live in poverty by 2030.

So, how do we go about securing our state’s future if nearly 1 in 6 Floridians live in poverty?

Believe it or not, even after years of leading this discussion, we are still asked why the state chamber is driving these conversations. And when businesses ask us if the challenge of creating opportunities for economic prosperity for all Floridians is one of economic or moral significance, our answer is “yes” to both.

We believe all leaders in our state should be working together to ensure every Floridian – regardless of their circumstances – has the opportunity to lead successful and meaningful lives. And while there will always be situational poverty – the kind stemming from temporary setbacks – business leaders can play a strong and crucial role in helping break the cycle of generational poverty.

At the Florida Chamber Foundation, we took on the challenge of trying to identify what economic prosperity means for Florida and to educate businesses on how complex the issue of poverty is. Our Less Poverty, Through More Prosperity Report culminates years of research and analyzes poverty rates in all of Florida’s counties, and identifies the challenges that keep people from rising out of generational poverty. This report also identifies a few key opportunities to prepare our state’s workforce and create economic opportunity, which include employing two-generational strategies which recognize that focusing on interventions for children living in poverty without addressing the needs of the parents of those children leads to sub-optimal results, focusing on early learning initiatives so that students have a chance to succeed from a young age, creating workplace based solutions, and ensuring that low-income families have access to the services they need.

We are taking our research and our words and turning them into action. We are traveling the state to talk about economic prosperity, and bringing together businesses, non-profit organizations, community leaders, elected officials and more to discuss best practices and steps toward action at our annual Less Poverty, Through More Prosperity Summit.

Florida has led the way in economic growth and opportunity. We can and must do more to break the cycle of generational poverty by focusing on creating opportunities for all Floridians, especially those born into poverty. And with the business community leading the way, we can be successful.


Employers urged to partner with schools to improve workforce

By Marcia Heroux Pounds Sun Sentinel


Kelly Smallridge tells her employees “first you’re a parent and second you’re an employee.”

Her point: Employers need to do a better job of supporting parents, which she said would lead to more dedicated employees and an improved future workforce.

Smallridge, the mother of three sons and the head Palm Beach County’s Business Development Board, was among leaders who gathered Thursday to talk about “Preventing Florida’s Brain Drain,” part of the county’s effort to improve education and build a stronger workforce.

Other panelists stressed the importance of early childhood education, customizing education to different student levels and getting parents and children accustomed to lifelong learning for the jobs of the future, which won’t look like today’s.

New Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa led off the discussion with the shortage in bus drivers that played a part, along with new technology, in the “debacle” during the county’s first week of school. Many buses were late or failed to show up to pick up students during the first week of school.

He said the situation is just one example where the county will “drive for improvement.”

Avossa, who spent some of his childhood in Vero Beach and was hired from the Altanta school district, said he will strive to create a system that is more nimble and responsive to students, teachers and parents.

“We need business partners, community members and others to say ‘let’s do what’s right for kids,'” he said.

Smallridge said the Business Development Board plans two events next year to bring together educators and business: an education summit, so educators can meet business leaders, and a career showcase focusing on the industries that are increasing jobs in Palm Beach County and how educators and students can prepare for them.

Florida Chamber Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal said half of today’s jobs won’t exist in 2030. “We have to make sure our schools and communities are ready to compete,” he said.

David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald and now chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, said the journey to better education begins with early learning. In Florida, “43 percent of third-graders can’t read at a minimally proficient level,” he said.

That has ramifications for the workforce, he said. “It’s an outrage and a scandal that we have an extraordinary number of young people who are in kindergarten or first grade who have already made up their minds they can’t do the work.”

The focus should not always be on a college degree, the panelists said. Technical certifications also prepare students more immediately for the workforce.

“The majority of jobs that this state is going to need do not require a bachelor’s degree,” said Carvajal of the Florida Chamber.

But all jobs will need some kind of advance training, and employers need to remain competitive, he said.

“Someone is waking up overseas and saying I want to get as well-trained and educated as I can. When we say students don’t need a college degree, we lose the race,” Carvajal said

Shaking the Title as the State’s ‘Best Kept Secret’

By VALERIE GARMAN | The News Herald


MARIANNA — Business leaders from across Northwest Florida gathered in Marianna on Monday to discuss ways to shake the region’s unofficial title as the state’s “best kept secret.”

The need to attract new manufacturing, develop a skilled workforce and better market the area were major themes to come out of the Florida Chamber Foundation’s regional rollout of its statewide Trade and Logistics Study, a strategic transportation plan to grow trade, freight, manufacturing and logistics industries in the state.

Foundation vice president Tony Carvajal presented an overview of the study, noting $20 billion worth of goods transported in and out of Florida each year are not even made in the state.

“If all we want to be is great seaports, airports, if all we want to do is move things on rails and trucks, and all we want to do is be a pass through for the rest of the world … we know how to play that game,” Carvajal said. “If we’re going to grow this state, if we’re going to grow particularly Northwest Florida , this is one of the things we’ve got to focus on.”

The statement was one repeated several times through the half-day event, as several regional transportation and economic development experts took to the stage discuss the day’s themes. Port Panama City Director Wayne Stubbs agreed new manufacturing should be a major focus in the coming years. One of the study’s primary recommendations was to leverage the state’s port investments toward attracting new port-related manufacturers, he said.

“What’s been mentioned is that we need to make more things in Florida , and we’re a believer in that,” Stubbs said. “Supporting the industrial development side of our mission, I think it pays the most bang for its buck.”

At Port Panama City, 2,600 jobs are directly dependent on the port, and another 8,200 are indirectly related. The port’s major manufacturing tenants include Berg Steel Pipe, Oceaneering International and Green Circle Bio Energy.

“I think that’s the future we need to be focused on,” Stubbs said. “A regional port like Panama City is a good testament to that.”

Neal Wade, director of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, said to compete for manufacturing projects, the area first needs to change its perception as a tourist economy and develop a skilled workforce, something that is becoming increasingly important for companies.

Wade also is part of an effort to lure a major economic development project to a 2,200-acre “mega-site” in Jackson County , with automobile manufacturing poised as the target industry.

However, increased competition with Mexico ’s rapidly growing auto industry has officials instead looking toward original equipment manufacturers, which supply parts to larger automotive companies. Other opportunities could stem from involvement in moving parts between the U.S. and Mexico from Port Panama City.

“I think we’re going to become, in Northwest Florida, the manufacturing center of Florida ,” Wade said.

Ultimately, Carvajal said for every 10 jobs in export-related manufacturing created, 30 more are produced.

“The whole I-10 corridor is a growing part of the trade and logistics story across Florida and across the Southeast; it’s a global game-changer,” he said, calling on the leaders in the room to ensure the region plays a major role in Florida ’s future trade lines. “There’s one phrase I really, really hate about Northwest Florida : ‘it’s the best kept secret.’ If we can get rid of that phrase and never have it spoken in Florida again, I think we’ll make some huge advances.”