News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Individuals representing businesses, local Heartland Workforce centers and government officials from all over the state meet April 30 and May 1, for an informational and brain storming symposium at Chateau lan.
published: Friday, May 03, 2013
Group brainstorms about improving state economy
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Specialists in local economic and job development programs and organizations gathered at the Chateau Elan for an informational and brainstorming session earlier this week.
Participants came from all over the state, including workforce professionals and government officials.
A report on Florida's current state of economic development by McCallum Sweeney Consulting and Avalanche Consulting said, "Florida is not on most comapanies' radar as a viable business location ... it's seen as a great vacation place, but not as a place to do business." It adds that hurricanes remain a real concern for many companies.
Beyond simply not knowing about Florida's opportunities, the report said many businesses have found local permitting processes complicated enough to kill any deal. The recommendation is for elected officials to modernize taxes, streamline the permitting process and establish liaisons with other state agencies for a smoother process.
The McCallum report said "K-12 education and availability of a more highly skilled workforce are two areas that need the most improvement ... specifically more investment in workforce training."
Locally, Highlands County businesses, the school district and South Florida State College are already collaborating on new programs regarding this issue.
The symposium also focused on several successful initiatives.
In Polk County, the local workforce created the Race to Place program, a short-term, intensive outreach campaign. "There are plenty of jobs," said Steve Carr, with the Polk County Workforce Board. "The problem is the employers and job seekers aren't meeting in the same place. We need to get open job notices and job seekers into the Employ Florida Market Place data system."
From an entirely different perspective, Crystal Stiles, economic development project manager for Florida Power & Light, presented a new economic development incentive called Powering Florida. The program, which is already live online, offers two sets of services -- a one-stop shop for site selectors, and a market research center for local economic development organizations. For the first time, Stiles said, three-dimensional information is available in one place at no cost.
Jack Richie, Highlands County Commission chairman, was very impressed by what he heard. "It was an incredible meeting," he said. "The information was extremely valuable. There are a lot of things I would hope we could do here. The power company's incentives are incredible, a great tool."
Roger Hood, executive director of the Heartland Workforce, was thrilled with the participation and variety of ideas.
He said the session showed a new seriousness of purpose. For example, Gov. Rick Scott had planned to attend, but at the last minute could not. Hood said the governor still spoke to the group via telephone for 30 minutes.
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