by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Florida’s future was the main topic for Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll, who spoke as part of the GrayRobinson “Community Leader Forum” Thursday at The River Club Downtown.
She also brought the issues home to the group of 140 participants.
“I believe yesterday’s newspaper had an article which indicated that this area was lagging behind many of our cities in the state of Florida in regards to economic growth and development,” said Carroll.
“I’ll have you know that’s going to change, and change very soon. We now have a seat at the table, we have a voice and, with your help and support, it’s going to be phenomenal in the City of Jacksonville and the surrounding areas,” she said.
The development of jobs across Florida was a major part of the Rick Scott campaign, which focused on his 7-7-7 plan. The plan details seven steps that will help produce 700,000 jobs in seven years.
Carroll, a former District 13 state representative, told the crowd she won’t forget where she came from when she reaches Tallahassee.
One of the reasons for her economic optimism was the military presence in the Northeast Florida region. Carroll, a Navy veteran, acknowledged that Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Mayport Naval Station provide “economic viability in the Northeast Florida region.”
Carroll stated that she has enjoyed the “Let’s Get to Work” jobs tour she and Gov.-elect Scott have taken the last few weeks, which included a stop at Jacksonville’s Cecil Commerce Center Dec. 7. She was interested to find out what businesses need to be more successful.
“It was a listening tour to go out to the business community to find out what are those barriers to business growth and development,” said Carroll.
“We know some, but you are out there in the trenches on a daily basis. What are the barriers that (state and local) governments are presenting to preclude you from opening your business, expanding a business or relocating a business to Florida?” she asked.
The Scott-Carroll team is sifting through the questions they’ve been asked and they want to let their constituents know that government shouldn’t be expected to solve all problems.
“What we need to do as government is to make sure that government is not the sole answer for everything,” said Carroll.
“That when you need business startup money, you are not coming to the government to say, ‘This company is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we can’t get a dollar from the bank, can’t get a venture capitalist to come to the table, but still we need the government to give us the seed money so we can start up a business,’” said Carroll.
“That is not good economic sense for our state,” said Carroll.
“If it has good financials, a good rate of return, if it has good prospects for how it can create sustainable jobs to enhance the state of Florida to bring about the jobs that we need, then that will be a good project to move forward,” she said.
Carroll was on a tight schedule, but did have time for some questions from the audience, which included issues with Florida ports and high-speed rail.
In regard to the ports, Carroll wouldn’t say one had priority over another.
“We are not going to pick winners and losers,” said Carroll. “But what we would do is put measures in place. Last year (State Rep.) Lake Ray had a wonderful bill that could have put us on a path to have a pool of resources for our ports to compete for those dollars for whatever their needs are. It’s not going to be a cookie cutter. Miami’s needs are different from Jacksonville’s,” she said.
High-speed rail is looked at as good in concept, but needs more information to become a reality, said Carroll.
“The main thing that Rick and I want to see from these projects is that they are self-sustaining. Let’s see the financials. Let’s see the rate of return,” said Carroll. “The idea and the concept is great, but what is the other side of the story?”
Carroll will return to Jacksonville with Scott Dec. 29 for the “Forging a Path to Prosperity Appreciation Tour.”
“One of the things that made her so perfect as a choice for lieutenant governor is her incredible pedigree in economic development policy,” said Fred Leonhardt, an attorney from GrayRobinson’s Orlando office who is credited with creating the Community Leader Forum program.
“She knows how to get things done and how to create jobs,” he said.
The Community Leader Forums were created by GrayRobinson to bring together clients, attorneys and friends of the firm to hear high-profile business and community leaders and elected officials to discuss important topics facing Florida.
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