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Florida Set to Gain Jobs, But What Kind of Jobs?

July 13, 2011 - 6:00pm

Last year, Floridas Agency for Workforce Innovation projected that Florida would gain 1.1 million jobs by 2017. It was noted that most of the projected job gains would simply be recouping the jobs lost from 2006 to 2009.

While growth in most major employment groups is expected, 50 percent of the projected new jobs are in clerical, food service and sales occupations.

Last month there was evidence that many newly created jobs in the country are low-wage, low-skill jobs. McDonalds decided to add 50,000 employees to its work force nationwide. The company received 1 million applications to fill those positions and ultimately hired 64,000 people. Many of those new jobs were created here in the Sunshine State. Even so, it wasnt enough to make a significant dent in our unemployment rate.

When you factor in the underemployed and those who have given up looking for work, the real national unemployment rate is closer to 17 percent. As we struggle at both a federal and state level to bring down our unemployment numbers, we should not focus solely on the need to create more jobs -- the focus should be on creating more 21st century high-wage, high-tech jobs.

Of course, action at the federal level to significantly reduce spending and the deficit will go a long way in restoring confidence, not just for consumers but for those with the capital necessary to grow the economy. It would also be extremely helpful if the federal government let banks get back in the business of lending rather than simply shoring up their balance sheets.

Apart from adopting a more prudent fiscal policy in Washington, there are a number of things the state of Florida can do to ensure a robust economic recovery. First, we must embrace a transformation of our states economy. Traditionally, Florida has relied on agriculture, tourism and population growth to fuel the economy. It is projected that we will continue to see job declines in agriculture -- and we have learned the hard way that relying on population growth to fuel the economy is an enormous mistake.

With more than 80 million visitors a year, tourism is, and always will be, a large part of our states economy. It is one of our strengths -- we should embrace it and build on it. But for the long-term viability of Floridas economy, we must transform our economy by placing greater emphasis on creating jobs in aerospace, biotech and life sciences, renewable energy, and digital technology.

This transformation can only take place if two things occur. First, we must continue to build on Floridas reputation as a business-friendly state. The Economic Competitiveness Index released by the American Legislative Exchange Council and economist Arthur Laffer last year firmed up our reputation as business friendly." According to the index, the five states in America with the brightest economic futures were Utah, Colorado, Texas, South Dakota, and Florida -- in that order. More recently, Chief Executive magazine ranked Florida No. 3 on its list of Best/Worst States for Business.

To transform our economy, we must maintain an economic environment that supports private enterprise. However, being a business friendly state is not enough to fully embrace such a transformation. When I have met with business leaders from around the world to talk about doing business in Florida, they told me they already know we are a low tax state with great weather, beautiful beaches and an incredible quality of life. In fact, they want to do business here. Their first question was always the same: If we move our business here -- where will we get the workers?

Thus, to fully complete the transformation of the economy, we must not only maintain a business-friendly environment, we must create a world-class work force. We can start by lining up the degree silos at our colleges and universities with future work force needs in targeted industries such as aerospace and life science. It means creating incentives for students to become engineers and scientists. And it requires that we view economic development as a continuum that begins with our efforts in early learning, continues in our K-20 system, ending with the work force needs of 21st century employers.

The bottom line is this: We know Florida will gain more than a million jobs in the next five years. The question is, what kind of jobs? To ensure sustained economic growth and future viability, we must not be satisfied with 50 percent of new jobs landing in the clerical, food service and sales occupations -- as is currently projected. Placing a greater emphasis on creating 21st century high-wage jobs will not only strengthen Floridas economic foundation, it will ensure greater prosperity for generations to come.

This is a guest column by Jeff Kottkamp. He was Floridas 17th lieutenant governor. He served as chairman of Space Florida from 2007-2011 and led the efforts to grow and expand the aerospace industry in Florida.

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