Florida Chamber Foundation eyes the future

Ambitious goals to reach by 2030

TALLAHASSEE — A job-ready workforce, more affordable housing and schools where almost all kids read at grade level are among the goals outlined in a new report on the future of the state’s economy by the Florida Chamber Foundation.

The report includes mostly aspirational targets — and few specifics on reaching them. But the Florida 2030 study comes as Florida’s recovery from the Great Recession is drawing renewed focus with Gov. Rick Scott now a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson kept mostly away from politics in laying out economic, workforce and education data that helped serve as a basis for the report by his Republican-leaning organization’s research arm.

But in ridiculing the tax and spending decisions in Democratic-led California and New York, Wilson told chamber members gathered Wednesday in Orlando that this fall’s elections are critical.

“California is only one vote away,” Wilson said. “Think about that in November.”

Generally, the Florida 2030 report concludes the state already is on the road to where it should be in a dozen years, when Florida’s 21 million population will have added another 5 million people.

High school graduation rates are currently about 82 percent, with a 95 percent goal sought; and third- and eighth-grade reading levels of 100 percent by 2030 are within reach, chamber officials said.

But the state should enhance workforce-training and technical courses in schools to improve Florida’s talent pool, which officials see as central to keeping the state attractive to new business.

“Affordability of housing is the challenge around the state,” said Tony Carvajal, the foundation’s executive vice president.

The economy has developed as a flash point in the Florida governor’s race, dividing Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.

DeSantis touts the accomplishments of Scott in pulling the state from the depths of the recession, while Gillum has directed his appeal toward many left behind by the economic rebound.

On the surface, it seems hard to find fault with Florida’s 3.7 percent August unemployment rate, which is slightly better than the national average and nearing the state’s all-time low of 3.1 percent, reached in pre-recession, March 2006.

More than 1.5 million jobs have been added in the past eight years. But close to half of Florida’s 67 counties still have not regained the employment levels they had before the recession.

Carvajal said that among the goals of the Florida 2030 report are fostering more business growth in the state’s rural areas, reducing the 3 million Floridians living in poverty, and helping the 1.3 million people who say they are struggling to find affordable housing.

“There’s not just one magic wand you can wave and have all these things go away,” he said.

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