by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Speaker series features Delaney
Agriculture and tourism aren’t the strong economic drivers they once were in Florida, and the latest speaker in Gray-Robinson’s Community Leader Forum series believes knowledge could be the new economic driver in the state.
University of North Florida President John Delaney was the guest speaker at the “Community Leader Forum” sponsored by law firm Gray-Robinson’s Jacksonville office. The firm hosts the forum on a quarterly basis to bring together clients, attorneys and friends of the firm to listen to high-profile business and community leaders discuss issues facing the community. Delaney is a former mayor of Jacksonville and also its past General Counsel, but he focused his speech on illustrating how UNF will help drive Florida’s “new economy.”
“The number one and two economic drivers in pretty much every state in the country are, traditionally and historically, agriculture and tourism,” said Delaney.
He explained why these two legs of the state’s economy shouldn’t be relied upon solely to help the state’s economy grow.
“Agriculture is not going to be the big driver of Florida’s economy in the future. Agriculture (revenue) is now smaller than Gulf(of Mexico) tourism,” said Delaney. “The second big driver of the economy, of course, has been tourism. That’s very unreliable in terms of how the cash flows in to the state budget. The third big driver of Florida’s economy, since we emerged as a peninsula out of the ocean, has been growth. Florida, since its beginning has always grown. Three years ago that stopped. This year it went into reverse.”
Education is a product that Delaney explained could help stabilize and provide a “fourth leg” to that chair that the state’s economy rests on.
“I think the new economy for the United States, and Florida in particular, is going to be linked to that knowledge economy,” said Delaney. “It’s going to be what comes out of the universities in this state. It’s going to be those inventions and research activity. It’s going to be the production of degrees. We are very low in the percentage of our population that have college degrees.”
Tuition at schools in Florida is among the cheapest in the country and UNF has looked at how they can improve on that value by pushing its colleges to develop programs that focus on serving the needs of Northeast Florida.
“We want to be relevant to the needs of the Northeast Florida area,” said Delaney. “A classic example is in the transportation and logistics arena.”
Jacksonville is home to CSX, one of the biggest railroad companies in the U.S.; one of the largest ports on the eastern seaboard and transportation companies Landstar and CEVA Logistics are also headquartered in Jacksonville.
“So transportation and logistics is a very important industry in this area,” said Delaney. “We currently have the 13th ranked program in the country and our juniors have jobs lined up before they graduate.”
There are three other flagship programs that serve the needs of Northeast Florida. UNF’s College of Health is using its School of Nursing to help address the nursing shortage in the state, and it was chosen as the school’s first flagship program. The Coastal Biology flagship program goes beyond the normal biology curriculum to focus on coastal biology, from genetics and molecular biology to the study of its ecosystems. UNF’s location near the St. John’s River, Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean provides a research area not readily available to most universities in the country.
“When you think how important that (St. Johns) River is, the Intracoastal, the beaches,” said Delaney. “What’s going to restore that is going to be the work of scientists. We have a great laboratory with an outstanding group of faculty.”
The Coggin College of Business’s International Business flagship program was an idea that wasn’t quickly accepted by UNF.
“I didn’t see Jacksonville as an international city,” said Delaney. “Then I found out about how our graduates find jobs working for international companies and how they are being exposed to international accounting practices, international management systems and international marketing programs. I realized the value of that program.”
Low tuition and top ranked programs are products that Florida can offer, and Delaney is banking on human capital to help right Florida’s faltering economy.
“What Florida has to do is create a new economy,” said Delaney. “Because the old economy, while we still need those legs (agriculture, tourism and growth), is not what’s going to allow our kids and grand kids to get productive jobs in the future.”