January 25, 2019
The Great Recession of 2007-09, as pundits are now calling it, hit Northeast Florida brutally. A regional economy that had been fueled by population and construction growth, consistently doing better than the national average, saw unemployment skyrocket when the housing market collapsed, the economy retracted, and population growth slowed to a trickle.Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) surveyed the community to identify residents' top priority for in-depth study. Job growth far surpassed any other regional issue. Volunteers and partner organizations from the seven-county region came together to explore new ideas for retaining existing jobs, rapidly creating new jobs, and for positioning the region for long-term economic growth.The study committee visited the seven partner counties (Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns), examined existing job development plans and economic development strategies for the region, and explored promising practices from other regions that were achieving success despite the national economic climate.The resulting recommendations are designed to enhance economic development and job creation, signaling to the state and nation that Northeast Florida is open for business.Implementation of these recommendations will highlight Northeast Florida's existing assets and strengthen its competitive advantages in the economic world. Most significantly, action will build on Northeast Florida's successes and enhance the combined regional approach to competing in the global marketplace.First, the region must focus on its key regional growth industries. The primary immediate opportunities for substantial job creation in the region are in the areas of:* port logistics and associated industries* health and medical sciences* aviation/aerospace and defense contracting* financial servicesSecond, the region must bring its business and education sectors together in a shared emphasis to build and maintain an educated and skilled workforce. Shifting economic realities, along with the skill sets required for job growth, necessitate the training (or re-training) of local workers and the retention of these skilled local workers in their employment positions. It also prescribes the need for attracting talented workers from around the world.Third, economic success will require even more emphasis on encouraging the growth of small businesses. Enhancing the region's entrepreneurial spirit is critical to sustaining a vibrant economy. Improving access to support for small business development and expansion holds the potential for creating more jobs and more business owners.Fourth, the region requires both a vibrant urban heart and an expanded vision of its assets and aspirations – unfettered by current boundary definitions. The outsider's view of Northeast Florida often begins with Jacksonville and its downtown core. A good first impression of the city, along with having strong economic development partners with a variety of different attributes, can have long term positive implications. Successful regional economic development also means rethinking the regions boundary lines and embracing all the potential Northeast Florida has to offer – such as the research capacities demonstrated by the University of FloridaFifth, regional leadership must come together to encourage economic growth and enhance the business-ready environment of Northeast Florida. Regional leadership (political, business, and community) must maintain focus on reducing issues that unnecessarily add roadblocks to sustainable economic growth, by streamlining regulation and permitting processes, in order to improve Northeast Florida's competitiveness and economic success.Together, the implementation of these recommendations can accelerate short-term job creation and, more significantly, strengthen the region's ability to sustain economic growth for years to come.