The trouble with Florida

March 11, 2011

I love Florida.

It might not seem that way from my criticism of the state in which I’ve spent 25 years, either full or part-time.

I call it tough love.

Here’s what I love about Florida:

The sun’s almost always shining, glinting like tiny crystals on deep blue water. I spent many jaw-dropping moments enjoying the sparkling water as I drove on the causeway to client meetings in Clearwater.

It’s a bare feet and shorts kind of place. Casual Relaxing. Fun.

Hang out in a Florida beach city before the tourist season hits in January for the ultimatein relaxation. Or if you want a reasonably-priced family vacation.

The cities are of manageable size and affordable.

Here’s what I don’t love about Florida:

It’s always trying to be something it’s not.

Like a business and technology center. An innvoator. An arts center.

It’s none of these things.

I’d like to view Florida as “aspirational,” but the term that’s always seemed more apt is “delusional.”

These are the facts:

Without the necessary underpinnings of a great educational system — and more than tourist jobs to offer new graduates–it’s hard for Florida to step out of what it is now and always has been: a tourism-and hospitality-cenetered state with a lot of call centers staffed by cheap labor.

But here’s the question for economic developmentofficials: why SHOULD it step out of its identity?

When I movedto Florida for the second time back in1996, people in Tampa Bay were trying to get the moniker “Silicon Beach” to catch on. The same thing was happening in parts of South Florida.

It just seemed silly.

There was no technology and, except for the sandy beaches, absolutely no silicon. There is only one Silicon Valley, but Chamber of Commerce types wanted to jump on the bandwagon. “Us, too!”

Here is what I’ve learned in life: Be who you are and you can never go wrong.

So to economic development types in Florida, I say this:

Forget all the copycat stuff.

Take an honest look. Figure out what Florida really does best.

Then. support it. And find ways to leverage it in new directions.

Otherwise, it’s just an exercisein wheel-spinning, taking with it time, effort and funds the state can’t afford.

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