Day 49 – Business is Ready for Florida, but are we Ready for Them? #100DaysofHigherEd

In the early 1960s the city of Orlando was basically a sleepy Central Florida town, in the 1920s few people had even heard of Miami, and the Tampa Bay area was known more for cigars than sunshine. Yet, over time, these three cities have become powerhouses for jobs and innovation in the past few decades. Orlando is now known for its world class theme parks and for the space coast, where you can literally watch a rocket launch in the twilight of the morning and then celebrate with a fireworks show as the Magic Kingdom ends another day. Miami is now the vacation destination for the rich and famous from all over the world and is quickly becoming a hub for technology and banking. Finally, Tampa Bay is the backbone for shipping in the gulf and is a rising star in Cyber Security. To be sure, it feels like a good time to be in Florida.

Recently I read the book, “The New Geography of Jobs” by Enrico Moretti and it really shed a light on why Florida is flourishing and why there is danger on the horizon. While some aspects of this 2012 book feel a bit dated the central tenets of the book seem to hold true. Moretti sets out and makes strong case that there are far more factors in play as to why one town draws jobs to their city limits than others. In the book he explores, what is the difference between places like Detroit, Michigan, a city that flourished during the manufacturing boom but bottomed out in the 2009 recession and never recovered versus Pittsburgh, a city with similar manufacturing roots but has been reborn through robotics and advanced manufacturing. His conclusion? Cities that boom and are resilient in their economic advancement are good at this for four distinct reasons:

  1. They have a bed of talent that meets the needs of emerging job markets and they have invested in the production of new talent for future needs through local higher education.
  2. These cities provide a place where people want to live. They provide the right mix of good schools, a vibrant night life, parks, and lifestyle offerings that we all want in a comfortable life.
  3. The regional salary structure offers an opportunity for a quality of life that is sustainable and even thriving (defined as 25% above a living wage).
  4. The best minds happen to be in the area. Smart people recruit folks who want to work with smart people so investing in innovation means attracting the right brains to relocate or, get lucky and have them already living there.

Florida offers up its fair share of advantages and perils in all four of these traits and is why a partnership like the Florida Consortium is so important to be a catalyst for the continued advancements to Moretti’s model for job growth. The Florida Consortium is built on the idea that when universities work together, we can amplify our impact and grow our economy through talent development in a profound way.


The universities of the Florida Consortium; Florida International University, University of Central Florida, and University of South Florida produce over 32,000 bachelor’s degrees each year, making us the 26th largest state for talent production. This production represents, in each case, a student with a dream and the skills needed for the modern workplace. All three universities are Research One, Minority Serving Institutions, we are heavy in Pell Students who come from low-income families, and we are STEM focused universities producing literally thousands of engineers and computer scientists each year. Also, did we mention we all have a medical school? And nearly 80% of our graduates stay and work in the state of Florida after graduation. We have the total package.

The threat, however, is the rest of the state is not keeping up. Florida ranks 29th for degree production and is lagging the Lumina Foundation’s goal of having 60% of the population with a post-secondary degree by 2025 by quite a bit! This will require our universities to become more efficient in degree production and recruit more qualified students. We intend on doing that through our deep connections to our local state colleges. Currently we have agreements with 16 of the 28 state colleges and are the destination for over 64% of state college transfers. This pipeline should help us grow degree production but there is a race between the number of degrees we produce, and the jobs open in the area. In the Tampa Bay area alone, Cybersecurity jobs have grown 24% in the past five years adding over 11,000 new, high paying jobs to the region. But our three universities do not produce near the talent to fill all those jobs and it will take all three of us to meet the demand.

Quality of Life

Well, it is Florida. What is not to like? We are literally called the Sunshine State and we offer great weather, lots to do including outdoor activities, championship sports, beaches, theme parks, great food, cultural immersion, and much more! Living here is akin to living in paradise. Folks are literally drawn to this place by the thousands. Since 2010, the Orlando area has added the population of Wyoming to the city limits. Each day over 1,100 people move to Florida. This idea of Florida as an attractive destination was highlighted earlier this year when a single tweet by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in response to a new Silicon Valley in Miami. Since then, requests for firms to relocate to the sun and fun of South Florida has exploded.

However, Florida is one of the most venerable states to the growing threat of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten coastline in Miami, hurricanes have intensified and seem to be coming at a more frequent pace sending insurance rates through the stratosphere, and the growing population threatens our state’s water table. It will be important that we face these challenges together in the near term. Florida International University has invested in sea level research and have built new academic programs focused on using applied research to face these issues. The University of South Florida has recently announced a grant focused on preserving the sea grasses that are so important to our fish and wildlife, reduce pollution and erosion on our beaches. The solutions are out there but we can go from the most livable to not so great pretty fast.

Livable Cities

Despite the fantastic quality of life and the attraction of the region, Florida is still a livable place when it comes to affordability. With no state income taxes and, in many cases, affordable housing, Florida is a place where folks can set down roots and raise a family. While the cost of living is not as low as places such as Indiana and Kansas when compared to New York and California, Florida is a bargain. However, it is in that attraction that imperils the state in the future.

Miami is already one of the most expensive cities in the United States to live in. And when you add the salary gap that becomes even more daunting. And now Tampa Bay and Orlando are starting to see similar issues. Florida ranks 41st in median salary and we live in a state where 1 in 3 kids under the age of 17 live in poverty. The threat is Florida becomes a state much like California where the differences between the rich and poor are striking and create pockets of extreme poverty and homelessness. Currently, Florida ranks 14th in per capita homelessness but is at the top of the ranks when it comes to homeless families. If we do not address the need for a thriving wage, just not a living one then our economy and attractiveness will suffer. The Florida Consortium is working together to address this issue through our Employability Project. This project works to align curriculum to enhance the skills desired by employers to help students qualify for even more opening offers and thus close the wage gap.

Smart People

This is perhaps the area where we need the most help. Florida is home to the fewest number of Fortune 500 quarters for the top 10 most populous states and is near the bottom in terms of per-capita Fortune 500 representation. This needs to change. Back to Moretti’s book for this one. For every professional working in a high skilled job such as computer science, they help support the work of 6 other people. Be it primary care physicians, dentists, wait staff, teachers, or plumbers the degree helps recruit the jobs. When politicians say that not everyone needs a college degree to be successful, they are only partly right. Not everyone needs a degree, but they need just about everyone around them to have one. People in high skill fields are also high wage employees and they tip their hairdresser and wait staff more, they seek higher end services, have high quality health insurance plans, and send their kids to piano lessons and baseball practice. They are the engine because they have thriving capital to support an economy.

That is why smart people matter. When we have leaders in innovation and industry, we create a base of talent that attracts other talent to work with them. Luckily, in addition to size, the Florida Consortium universities are innovative and attract talent to teach at all three of our universities. All three universities are at the top of the most innovative university in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings. However, we have yet to produce our first Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, that needs to happen to really grow these opportunities. Florida is a happening place! We have all anyone could want in a hometown or a night on the town, except maybe for four seasons and snow skiing. Sorry, about that. But Florida has been ranked for five years running as the best state for higher education by U.S. News and there is no sign that will change soon. Our system is incredibly affordable, and the members of the Florida Consortium are among three of the most affordable in the United States. We are also growing and changing. The state best known for a mouse and sand is now known for high tech and reaching for space. But we need to make sure this train does not stop because we stubbornly retreat into regional fiefdoms. We know we have become the destination we hope to be when a college student can begin at Valencia College, transfer to the University of Central Florida, get their matter’s degree at the University of South Florida, and their PhD at Florida International University without missing a beat or a paycheck. When we get to that point, we know that the sun shines on everyone.

Published by mprest13

I am a professional at the University of Central Florida who likes entertainment, politics and sports.

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