CHIPLEY — Discussing everything from Florida DMV fees to Florida education standards, Greg Blose, Grassroots Development and Engagement Manager from the Florida Chamber of Commerce was guest speaker at the Washington County Chamber of Commerce’s Chamber Breakfast on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of things that the Florida Chamber of Commerce does that directly effects you,” said Washington County Chamber of Commerce Director Ted Everett. “You may not see it but these guys are fighting the battles in the halls of Tallahassee and, of course, your chamber is fighting them in the halls of Washington County.”
Blose opened by saying that many of the topics that he would be discussing during the meeting would be considered controversial.
“It’s funny because as I was walking around this building this morning it was interesting because I saw this plaque that was out front dedicated to some of the people who helped build this facility and it said thank you to these three gentlemen for making the unpopular but correct decision to build this facility,” said Blose, referring to the Specialty Center at Northwest Florida Community Hospital. “I thought that was interesting because a lot of what we do is controversial or maybe unpopular but that doesn’t mean that isn’t what’s right for Floridians or we shouldn’t take action on certain things because of it being an unpopular decision.”
Blose said that there are “a lot of changes coming to the state of Florida, not only demographically but population wise.”
“The New York Times had an article a week or two ago that was a big deal because they were saying ‘well, we’re going to have Florida pass us as the third most popular state’ because New York is currently third and Florida is fourth and they’re trying to figure out why people are moving to Florida and why New York is being left behind,” he said. “Of course, we in Florida know low taxes, nice weather and friendly businesses is a large part of the reason.”
It was no surprise to those who live in Florida, Blose said, because the population of Florida continually grew in the “housing boom” and it was a subject of the local news often.
“After The Recession began it kind of tapered off, but there is going to be six million new residents moving to the state of Florida by the year 2030,” he said. “A lot of what we do at the Florida Chamber of Commerce is to plan on the future and not just what’s happening immediately in front of us. To take a look out into our future and say what we want our state to look like in year 2030.”
The current unemployment rate in Florida is 6.4 percent, explained Blose, which is a decline from 11.4 percent when Charlie Crist was governor.
“A lot of the 6.4 percent is because a lot of folks dropped out of the labor force, so keep that in mind,” he said. “There’s been a lot of progress since the darkest days this state has seen in many decades and its still going to be a tough road to climb, which is to create 9,000 new jobs by the year 2020. Despite all of the progress that’s happened in the state of Florida a recent poll shows that only 35 percent of the people feel that we’re moving in the right direction versus 49 percent that say we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
He said if someone were to look at Florida as its own country, then it would be ranked the nineteenth largest economy in the world.
“Technology and the internet has allowed us to do not only business in other areas but other countries,” said Blose. “Florida really is one of the leaders in the globe in being business friendly and having businesses being successful. One of the bad parts is that the cost of living has increased from fifth to twenty-fifth in the last few years and that was one of Florida’s biggest selling points.”
Eighty percent of all jobs created in the state of Florida are created by smaller businesses, he said, and to be considered a small business by Florida standards is any businesses of 500 or less employees.
“That’s why our focus is on small businesses and small business creation and not so much luring big business companies into the state, although that is a good benefit as well,” said Blose. “I’d also like to add that 2014 is a big election year and in terms of you providing feedback to your elected officials and sharing your opinion and sharing what’s going on in your business and in your community and things you’d like to see changed, your voice is going to have even more impact this year then it did last year so I really encourage you to become even more involved with communicating to your elected officials.”
He said that more and more people are becoming independent or other voters instead of voting Democratic or Republican and that there are two constitutional amendments coming up.
“One of which is to legalize marijuana in Florida, which is being ran by John Morgan and he is a very interesting gentleman,” said Blose. “There is a growing concern about legalizing marijuana at the Florida Chamber of Commerce in the state of Florida because the conversation about legalizing marijuana in the state of Florida is more about cancer patients and sick people but what this amendment is really about is to legalize the use of marijuana for any reason as long as your doctor gives you a prescription. So if a doctor determines that marijuana is going to fix your headache, your backache, your gout or whatever, that’s what we’re talking about.”
Blose said there’s also an idea that Morgan is only pushing for the legalization of marijuana so that more Democrats will vote for Crist over Governor Rick Scott based on the fact that Crist works for Morgan as a trial lawyer.
“Another constitutional amendment coming up is water and land conservation, which is as American as mom and apple pie, and when you look at this constitutional amendment you will think that you should do this,” said Blose. “What it says is that it will require 33 percent of net revenue from excise tax to be deposited in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for 20 years and we all love the outdoors and want to conserve land, the question is if this is the right way to do it. And if you look at the numbers, what that 33 percent will look like in the fiscal year 2015-16 is $648 million and when you think of funding problems and places where the state could use money in we feel it’s better not to hamstring the budget by purchasing land but instead use it on other things like economic development and solving other problems.”
Another issue facing the state of Florida, Blose said, was increasing the quality of education through common core and higher education.
“Education is the new economic currency and in the nation we don’t have a set standard of education in every state,” he said. “There’s that to consider, a national standard which would be regulated by common core that the third graders in every state are measured by the same standards and that the local school systems are developed exactly how to achieve those goals, not the federal government is something that we support at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.”
Blose said there was also a growing concern from higher education officials, colleges, business leaders and military about the level of education that high school students have after graduating.
“We have regular meetings with representatives from these organizations and they are concerned with the level of skills of high school graduates,” he said. “The military did a study that one quarter of all people graduating and trying to join the army fail the entrance exam, colleges are telling us that the level of students going from high school to college are increasingly needing remedial classes, business owners are telling us that the skills high school graduates don’t match their needs and so if you think about it as a high school graduate those are the three areas you’re going to go to. If all three sectors are telling us they have a concern about the skills of high school students then we need to pay attention to what they’re trying to say and take action.”
He then moved on the economic development of Florida.
“We are really trying to diversify Florida’s economy,” said Blose. “Basically we’re laying out a road map on how to create 150,000 jobs in the next five years by taking advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal and global trade. There’s a lot of global trade occurring in Florida, however, we’re not even scratching the surface of the potential that Florida has.”
They also support rural and military economic development, targeted investments for civil and commercial space projects and Enterprise Florida.
“Here in the state of Florida we are falling behind because we are use to being the leader in space exploration and space based businesses for decades and now that the government’s kind of backed out of that business and it’s going more commercial we need to focus on that changing factor and what we can do to make sure that Florida remains number one space-based business in the Union,” he said.
They are also looking into ways of expanding water, energy and transportation to accommodate the increase of Floridians and mentioned a potential $500 million tax cut that would reduce DMV fees, Communication Services Taxes, Commercial Lease Taxes and Communication Services Tax.
For more information visit their website at www.flchamber.com.
The AT&T Pioneers donated school supplies to the Washington County District School Board for needy children.
“This is the volunteer aspect of the telecommunication industry,” said Area Vice President Ray Dubuque. “We support schools, activities that go on at schools, we do nursing home visits, we do a lot of different things within the community.”
Dubuque explained that it used to be just AT&T that started the volunteer network but it has since then expanded to telecommunication entities such as Verizon and Centrelink. He also added that they are the largest volunteer network with a single field of specialty with 500,000 members but also the least known due to their modesty.
Donated were hundreds of items that included school supplies of every sort, ranging from crayons to notepads and bags.
It was announced that Rogers Insurance Agency of Chipley was celebrating their 40th Anniversary as a third generation company.
The Chamber also welcomed Northwest Florida Community Hospital’s new CEO Mark Bush.
“The staff is outstanding and the community is very welcoming,” said Bush. “We appreciate all the support we receive from the community, board and staff. We’re here to take care of you so if you need anything don’t hesitate to ask.”
It was also announced that the second phase to Paint the Plug would be in March. For more information visit www.washingtoncountyartscouncil.org.