The Florida Brand: Telling the Sunshine State’s Story

How do you define a state of 20 million residents and 95 million annual visitors? In partnership with the Florida Chamber Foundation, Sachs Media Group polled 910 Americans and 538 Floridians in September 2015 to discover how people inside and outside the state view the Florida brand.

Florida is well-known and desirable

The good news is that most people know Florida from direct experience. The even better news is that the more people know Florida, the more they like it.

Seven in 10 Non-Floridians have visited or lived in Florida at some point in their lives. Among executives — business owners, executive-level officers, solo practitioners and entrepreneurs — Florida is even more familiar, with three-quarters having visited or lived in the state.

But that’s not all.

Florida is the first choice of a place to live. When asked to name the three states they would consider living in if they had to move, Florida (29%) was the top selection from among all states, followed next by Hawaii (23%), Colorado (22%), California (19%), Arizona (15%) and Texas (13%).

Non-Floridian executives were also most likely to select Florida (27%) with Colorado close behind at 25%.

But why?

Interestingly, the top reason people say they would want to live in Florida is also the top reason others give for why they would not want to live in this state. You guessed it: climate.

While climate was the top draw for 67% of respondents and 71% of executives, it accounted for a full 50% of the reasons that would keep others away.

Those who like Florida’s climate see it as warm, comfortable and stable. Those who would avoid living in Florida due to climate see it as hot, humid and too hurricane-prone.

Executives are drawn to Florida for being a place full of beaches (71%), where they could be closer to family and friends that live here (57%), as a fun place to live (57%) and as a place where both taxation level (43%) and culture (43%) are assets.

Fewer people are drawn to Florida for our education system — just 4% of respondents and 0% of executives named this as a driving factor; or for being a place where they would want to prospect for work — cited by just 13% of respondents and 29% of executives.

Weather aside, outsiders who would not consider living in Florida are most likely to cite indifference or lack of knowledge about the state (24%); factors relating to Florida’s population such as its size, crime levels or demographic makeup (10%); the state’s economy or laws (10%); or nuisances such as bugs, alligators, snakes and swamps (7%).

What is Florida’s “personality”?

We wanted to know how Florida is seen by those who know it well compared to outsiders.

After all, one’s self-perception is often markedly different from how others see them, and this could well be the case for the state, too.

It turns out that there are a number of personality attributes that define Florida for state residents and outsiders alike, and the good news is that these shared characteristics are largely positive. Florida is seen as extroverted, joyful, creative, eccentric, stylish, laid-back, calm, old, high-tech, changing and getting better.

While Florida is seen by its residents as slightly more “traditional” (54%), those who have never visited the state (52%) see it as slightly more “progressive”.

Likewise, Florida residents are more likely to see the state as affordable (57%), while outsiders (67%) and those who have never visited Florida (81%) see it as expensive.

Floridians (72%) see the state as “safe”. However, outsiders (45%) and those who have never visited Florida (60%) are more likely to view Florida as “scary”; and while most Floridians feel the state is natural (54%), outsiders are more likely to see Florida as overdeveloped (53%).

It appears that the more negative views of Florida are held by those who have never been to the state. Indeed, compared with Florida visitors, these respondents are more likely to cite Florida as aggressive or arrogant. They are also far less likely to see Florida as creative, calm, charismatic or joyful.

This is a good thing for Florida. It means that once people visit the state, their impressions improve.

Perhaps that’s why Floridians overwhelmingly want to stay

Floridians are more loyal to their home state than residents elsewhere, far more likely to report that they like where they live and have no plans to move.

Perhaps this is surprising, considering that Florida has the second-lowest ratio of native-born residents in the country. Or, perhaps this means that people who move to Florida know what else is out there and feel confident they’ve made the right choice.

Regardless, the differences are notable:

While 86% of Floridians and 89% of Florida executives say that the state is a “good” or “great” place to live, just 62% of outsiders and 52% of Non-Floridian executives feel this way about their own home state.

Further, 66% of Floridians and 69% of Florida executives say they like living in Florida and plan to stay. This compares with 58% of Non-Floridians regarding their home state and 52% of Non-Floridian executives.

Just 15% of Floridians and 12% of Florida executives say that they wish they could move but feel stuck here.

Among residents of the top five biggest states, Illinoisans and Californians have the lowest ratios of “loyalty” — i.e., the desire to stay — in their states, while New Yorkers and Texans fall somewhere in between.

Among Floridians, loyalty is highest among the state’s oldest residents (82%), higher-income residents (83%) and those who live in the northwest part of the state (76%). Comparatively, loyalty is lower among millennials (52%), lower-income residents (59%) and those who live in the east-central part of the state (56%).

How Florida compares on living conditions

There are many areas where Floridians and Non-Floridians agree that Florida is better off than most other states: roads and transportation, tax burden, government regulation, environmental responsibility, water resources and housing.

Topping this list are people’s views of Florida’s water resources, environmental responsibility and transportation system.

More than three-quarters of Floridians and 68% of Non-Floridians view the state’s water resources more favorably; 66% of Floridians and 61% of Non-Floridians view the state as strong in environmental responsibility; and 66% of Floridians and 72% of Non-Floridians have high confidence in Florida’s roadways.

However there are also a number of areas where Florida is perceived — correctly or not — as worse than most other states by residents and outsiders alike: political environment, drugs and crime, government corruption, health care and education.

63% of Floridians and 71% of Non-Floridians believe the state has a bigger problem than most with drugs and crime, and equal portions (about 55% for each) of residents and outsiders see Florida as having more problems with government corruption, with the same portions perceiving a less favorable political environment.

Florida executives are particularly dismayed with the state’s political environment: 60% view the political environment as worse than other states and 71% view government corruption as a bigger problem in Florida than elsewhere.

Indeed, many of the more negative perceptions of Florida emerge in the responses of Florida’s business executives.

While about half of Floridians (51%) perceive the state’s education system as better than most other states, just 28% of Florida executives feel this way. Equal portions of Non-Floridians (44%) and Non-Floridian executives (46%) view Florida’s education system as better than average.

These perceptions do not reflect the reality of Florida’s improved public education system: The state’s high school graduation rate increased from 59.2% in 2004 to 76.1% in 2014; the ratio of students passing AP exams increased 316% between 1999 and 2012; and in 2014, Florida outperformed the nation in fourth grade reading among all subgroups of students. These gains are matched with innovations in Florida education policy such as in school choice and school accountability.

Similarly, while 49% of Floridians view the state’s health care system favorably, just 37% of Florida executives do so. These numbers trail perceptions held by outsiders, where 56% of Non-Floridian executives view the state’s health care system favorably.

Indeed, health care may be one area where outsiders have a more accurate view of Florida than residents do, at least in terms of what data suggest about the status of health care across the states. For example, Florida was rated No. 2 in the nation by WebMD for hospital safety scores. Perhaps this is part of what draws the estimated 375,000 domestic visitors and 38,000 international visitors to Florida for medical care each year.

How Florida’s business climate is viewed

Floridian executives are by and large pleased with business-related characteristics of the state (tax rates, levels of government regulation and so on). However, Non-Floridian executives see the state a bit differently.

When asked how “business-friendly” each of the five largest states are, 66% of Florida executives gave a positive review for Florida. However, just 35% of Non-Floridian executives agreed, giving Florida the same average score on this question as was received by California and New York, and trailing that of Texas (42%). Only Illinois (26%) fared worse.

More specifically, 58% of Floridian executives say that Florida’s tax burden is better than most other states, while 46% of Non-Floridian executives share this view. Similarly, while a majority of Floridian executives feel that Florida’s cost of living is better than most other states, just one-quarter of Non-Florida executives agree.

How do these outsider perceptions reconcile with the reality that Florida business executives are largely satisfied with their state? That they are happy in Florida and would be less likely to move? That Florida’s tax and regulatory climate is indeed measurably more favorable to businesses than most other states?

A closer look at executive concerns

Perhaps one way to measure differences in state business climates is to ask executives what factor concerns them the most about the future of their business. The No. 1 reason cited by Non-Florida executives is “too much government regulation” (19%), but only 4% of Florida executives share this concern. The No. 2 reason for Non-Florida executives is “high tax rates.”

Comparatively, Floridian executives are most concerned with “finding qualified or reliable employees” (20%) and “high insurance rates” (18%).

When asked about the top factors they would consider if relocating their business to another state, Florida executives selected cost of living (37%), tax rate (20%) and talent pool (10%) as most important.

Asked where they would move if they had to, Florida executives were most likely to select Colorado (36%), North Carolina (36%) and Georgia (33%) — all of which are considered to be better than average in terms of overall tax burdens.

So, what is Florida’s opportunity?

  • Let the world know we’re #1. Highlight that Florida is the top choice for general public and executives alike when selecting a different state to live in. Florida also enjoys significantly greater loyalty and satisfaction levels among current residents compared with the national average.
  • Showcase our business friendliness. Educate non-Florida executives about Florida’s business friendliness, characterized by low taxes, favorable regulatory environment and competitive cost of living. Tell this positive story while travelers are here on business and leverage Florida executives as brand ambassadors.
  • Counter the perception that Florida is expensive. Inform outsiders about Florida’s competitive cost of living and affordability. Floridians are overall satisfied with the affordability of their state, while outsiders perceive the state as expensive. This represents a significant area of opportunity.
  • Tell our workforce story. Let Florida and non-Florida executives alike know more about the substantial work that’s being done to connect our state colleges and universities with employers to meet our workforce needs.
  • Tout educational successes. Increase awareness regarding Florida’s tremendous gains in student achievement, as well as innovations in school accountability, school choice, and more. Tell this positive story to Floridians and non-Floridians alike.
  • Highlight our world-class health care assets. On average, about 375,000 domestic visitors and 38,000 international visitors come to Florida each year for medical care. Indeed, Florida’s hospitals are among the highest ranking in the nation for patient safety.
  • Personality forward. Take every opportunity to paint the state’s personality as creative, joyful, laidback, charismatic – all the positive traits that people already associate with us. At the same time, highlight our younger, high-tech entrepreneurial class to put a fresh face on Florida.