Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offered four suggestions Thursday for communities like Jacksonville to compete in the economy.
Bush, who served from 1999-2007, spoke to NAIOP of Northeast Florida, a commercial real estate trade organization. More than 330 members and guests attended the lunch event at the Hyatt Downtown.
Bush listed his four recommendations to “create a world-class business climate.”
• Encourage a diversity of industries. Communities should be able to adjust and adapt to changing conditions. Bush said he met with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, which didn’t exist 10 years ago and now has more than 500 million users.
“The world is moving at warp speed,” said Bush.
Communities should have policies focused on a diversity of industries and not just a targeted few.
• Don’t ignore historical strengths. The industries that sustained a community will help bridge it to the future economy. In Florida, those include tourism, agriculture and the military.
If you see tourists, said Bush, “give them a hug and invite them back.”
He said agriculture is a sector
that can generate developments in the life sciences industry.
The military is important, especially in Jacksonville, he said. “You’d better fight like hell and make Florida the most military-friendly state,” he said. There will be another Base Realignment and Closure Commission process, he said.
• Don’t ignore demographics. “God willing, tomorrow we’ll be older,” he said. Bush said there needs to be an immigration program that attracts the “young, vibrant people” needed in the state.
As well, the state needs a strategy to attract the people retiring in other states who are deciding where to live the rest of their lives.
He also said that communities and the state need “an honest appraisal of our weaknesses” and “a culture of continuous improvement.”
Bush cited the costs and uncertainties of permitting, workers compensation and litigation as issues that affect companies that want to expand and create jobs.
He also said that because Florida experiences hurricanes, insurance costs are also a factor. “Paradise has a price,” he said.
• Think beyond the horizon. Bush said that roads, bridges, ports and airports are all infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, although he did not comment to the crowd about Gov. Rick Scott’s decision Wednesday to forego federal funds for high-speed rail.
Bush also said that there had not been a new electrical power plant built in five years, another element that affects economic development. “We need more power,” he said. “And it doesn’t grow on trees.”
Bush then turned to what he called the “soft infrastructure” of education, saying the state needed to transform its educational system, including higher education.
Bush said 60 percent of full-time students in Florida public universities graduate in six years with a four-year degree. “If it’s a six-year degree, let’s call it a six-year degree,” he said.
He also said the No. 1 degree in Florida was psychology.
Bush said that the K-12 system of public education has improved, but it “needs to be a whole lot better.”
“We should have no tolerance for the mediocrity we have,” he said.
“The costs are so enormous for our complacency that economic development cannot be sustained unless we get this right.”
Bush formerly owned a real estate development company in South Florida and also served as state secretary of commerce under former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez.
He is chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and also runs the Jeb Bush and Associates corporate consulting firm.
Bush lives in South Florida. He serves on the Jacksonville-based Rayonier board, which meets today.