Business Leaders Look to Boost Economic Development

TALLAHASSEE — A well-connected group of Florida business leaders thinks its members can help fill a void that opened last year when lawmakers broke up the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida.

The Florida Council of 100 on Wednesday released a report about types of businesses and industries that different areas of the state should work to attract, while offering its more than 150 members to help link businesses with regional economic-development organizations.

The report — “Beyond Sunshine: Advancing Florida’s World Class Economy for the Next Generation” — breaks Florida into six major regions and three rural areas of opportunity. Different industries are identified for each region based on issues such as existing economic clusters.

Council of 100 President and CEO Mike Simas said council members can help drive private-sector activity as they travel globally.

“We’re not going to be an economic development organization, ever,” Simas said. “Our role is to convene leaders from around the state, particularly private-sector thought leadership, to help solve public-sector problems.”

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The group’s board includes people such as Todd Jones, executive chairman of Publix Super Markets; Joe York, president of Florida and gulf states for AT&T; former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, chairman of the Gunster law firm; and former state House Speaker Will Weatherford, managing partner of Weatherford Capital. The board’s chairman is former Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy.

“Cost issues and job growth are areas where our members are experts,” Simas said. “They’re running the businesses in these regions that are driving a lot of this growth. And really, our goal is to help coordinate with the regional economic development organizations who have been doing this work remarkably well for a long time.”

The report includes some overlap in proposing what different regions of the state should focus on for business recruitment or expansion. The overlap occurs in industries such as distribution and e-commerce, aviation and defense, health services and information technologies.

But the report also calls for an emphasis on specific clusters, such as biopharmaceutical fields in South Florida and semiconductor manufacturing in Central Florida.

Simas said the report was already underway before state lawmakers in 2023 dismantled Enterprise Florida, which as a private-public organization helped guide Florida’s economic development. Lawmakers made the decision after years of debate about state business incentives.

About 20 Enterprise Florida employees and more than 20 business-recruitment responsibilities were shifted to the Department of Commerce. The agency’s overseas operations were revamped under the banner of the new non-profit Select Florida.

In a Council of 100 news release that accompanied the new report, Florida Department of Commerce Secretary Alex Kelly is quoted as saying he looks “forward to partnering with the council.”

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