“The goal of rural economic development is not to turn our rural communities into urban communities. The goal of rural economic development is to embrace the things that make our communities strong and create new opportunities that are vertically integrated in the strengths we already have so that our kids don’t have to all leave to find good jobs.
“The things that I think we need to do are all about creating opportunities for our kids to be able to find their piece of the American Dream—in the same town, in the same county, and in our state.
“So how do we get there? First and foremost, it begins with education, and it begins by making sure that our rural counties, our small-town schools, get the resources they need to help our kids be successful in a very complicated and rapidly changing global economy.
“It means putting vocational, technical and career education and skills back into middle schools and back into high schools. Think back to when you were out of power. Have you ever been happier to see anyone than when the bucket truck gets to your house? They did a phenomenal job. The average age of that workforce continues to grow. We can’t find enough linemen. Those are great jobs.
“Our students need to know what they can earn. Maybe it’s as a lineman, maybe it’s as a service tech at a Chevy Dealership, maybe it’s the person who’s going to come fix your air conditioner, fix your plumbing, fix your electrical. Those are great jobs that our kids can do and stay in their communities and become their own business owners.
“So before we pressure all of our students into student loan debt for a degree they don’t want and can’t use, we need to let them know what they can earn. That means reorienting the system so that it’s not only about university degrees. It’s also about post-secondary education, where they top off their skills and they come out of school employable.
“The number one job vacancy in Florida every month has been in nursing. If we’re going to rebuild the middle class, and rebuild our rural communities and rebuild our inner cities, we have to invest in our community colleges and state colleges.
“The state that’s the Fishing Capital of the World ought to build more boats. The state that put a man of the moon ought to be the leader in the next generation of innovation for the next giant leap of mankind. Our rural communities are not at a disadvantage for many of the jobs of the future.
“It comes down to having the workforce, having the skillset, having the education system, having the infrastructure. And by ‘infrastructure,’ I don’t just mean roads and bridges. I mean water infrastructure to protect our springs, to convert failed septic systems to sewer, to make sure that people have the experiences that make Florida, Florida. And I mean the digital infrastructure.
“We need to lead in education, infrastructure and workforce development. Florida is stronger because of our diversity and because of our size and because we have world-class attractions, and the longest coastline and cities that are international brands unto themselves. But Florida is also special and strong and better because we have communities that don’t have their own interstate exists, whose economies are rooted around the land, attached to the land, and they offer plenty of room for the next great manufacturing facilities if we can guarantee the talent pipeline is loaded.
“We have the logistics and rail and highways. We have plenty of land, low taxes, and a group of the world’s finest economic developers who are ready to roll out the welcome mat to anyone who wants to call Florida home.
“The future of Florida will only be strong and right if we have a balanced and comprehensive approach to economic development that doesn’t leave rural communities behind. Rural economic development is about bringing real job opportunities to our communities, creating sites that are ready to go, branding and marketing our regions as places that are open for business and ready to welcome anyone who wants to call Florida home.”