One thing that has been consistent during the recent economic recession and subsequent upturn -- dare I say recovery -- has been the way two states have led the country in growth, job creation and economic development.
Those states are Texas and our own great state of Florida. In many indicators it has been Texas edging out Florida for the top spots. But not so much now as Florida, according to UCF economist Sean Snaith, has emerged to lead the pack. If we were Texas we would be doing a heap of bragging right about now, yet somehow it just hasnt been embedded into the Floridian culture to brag loudly. It is time we did!
Florida has always been a magnet for people from all walks of life. Those of us who can remember old Florida, as recent as the 1950s when we were the smallest Southern state in population, should be amazed at the miracle Florida has become. We have maintained a paradise, even with some bumps along the way, and grown in a short time span from the Souths smallest to the nations third largest population.
We have experienced immense growth, yet have remained a state with one of the lowest per capita tax burdens. We have assimilated people from a variety of cultures into one large Florida cook-pot, keeping many of the cultural identities in place, yet becoming a state with a vibrant economy and abundant opportunities for all.
I can remember when the state junior college system was born in combination with the first real expansion of the states public university system, utilizing the creation of several upper division institutions in geographically disbursed communities. The goal was expansion of access to opportunity and with it the old 2+2 system was born.
Along with that system evolved a system of transferability of credits called articulation agreements, not just for the public institutions, but also linking in the extensive system of private, not-for-profit institutions that already existed in Florida. That system of schools, known as the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), were welcomed as partners in the articulation, thus affording many additional options for students seeking a college education.
Floridas leaders had their eyes on the future as the steps they took in higher education were organized, well thought out and made with a comprehensive look at how the changes would affect all of Florida. We led the nation in developing the necessary agreements and in a wise geographic disbursement of access.
As Florida enters a new growth spurt, we should follow the example set then and plan for the increased demand for post-secondary education and how to best utilize the resources of both public institutions and ICUF schools to meet the needs of the future. Our institutions in Florida should be considered assets, not just for the educational opportunities they offer, but also as an integral part of the states economic development efforts. Floridas colleges and universities are economic engines with intellectual and research capacities that can entice business and industry to become a part of Floridas promise.
They should always be thought of as destinations for those seeking a better life with more opportunities to climb the ladder of success. In a bad economy, our higher education institutions struggle, yet they remain a place where citizens can sharpen skills and expand personal toolboxes so they can rise higher in their chosen profession or change fields to explore new opportunities.
We have always known Florida, compared to other states, seems to feel the effects of economic downturns first. Its like we are the nations seismograph, recording the tremors we know that all states will eventually feel. In this past recession, we began to see job losses in April of 2007 and when the recovery started we were among the last to gain traction and once again see growth.
However, recent reports show Florida has had expansive job growth and our unemployment rate is three-tenths below the national average. Snaiths forecast shows us to be on the path toward an average rate of 5.7 percent, and potentially as low as 5.4 percent by 2017, with wages also expected to grow. Construction is up, business expansion is up and home values are once again increasing while foreclosures and short sales are shrinking.
Florida is on the move and every day close to 1,000 new residents arrive in our paradise, seeking to share in the lives we know to be rich, engaged and bountiful. We are no longer a state of only tourism, construction and agriculture, as we now see an array of thriving business sectors as diverse as our demographics.
Florida is a state of promise. It always has been. It is up to us to make sure that we uphold the promise and continue to build upon that which we have been given, keeping this the paradise we know and love. Yes, it is time we started bragging, but humble, laid-back bragging more suits our style!
Ed H. Moore, Ph.D., is president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.