Florida has many inherent advantages that other states look upon with envy. Its mild climate, beautiful beaches, stunning golf courses and vibrant cities make it a magnet for tourists from all walks of live (and all corners of the world, too). There was a time when the state could rest easy with the knowledge that these attributes were all it needed to keep its economy humming along.
But not anymore. Florida’s economic climate has seen better days, and it’s up to the state’s residents, business leaders and politicians to chart a new path forward. Here’s what can be done to improve Florida’s business conditions and promote a statewide renaissance.
Reduce and Streamline Corporate Taxes
Partly because it lacks a personal income tax, Florida has relatively high corporate tax rates. In an era in which state governments are engaged in a “race to the bottom” for talent, high business taxes are probably unsustainable. A more streamlined corporate tax code with lower overall rates and fewer loopholes would create the sort of certainty and stability that businesses demand from their political leaders. As a direct corollary, lower business taxes would stimulate private investment in a manner that promotes job growth — and boosts overall tax receipts in the long run.
Promote Investment in Free-trade Areas
Free trade zones have proven successful the world over, particularly in developing-world manufacturing hubs. Florida has a number of busy port facilities that would be ideal candidates for free-trade zones. These areas would have lower import tariffs, fewer restrictions on the movement of goods and possibly industry-specific incentives for hiring and training new workers. Pilot projects near Port Tampa Bay and other hubs could pave the way for larger-scale development.
Promote Tourism and International Trade
Florida is and probably always will be an international tourist destination, but that doesn’t mean the state should take tourist dollars for granted. Tax holidays, elimination of redundant hotel taxes and incentives for seasonal hiring can all promote employment and growth in the tourism sector. So too can expanding or retrofitting existing port facilities to handle cruise passengers. Likewise, improvements to port facilities can make Florida a more attractive destination for international cargo, leading shipping firms to choose its ports over competing facilities in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.
Can Florida Compete in the 21st Century?
Let’s not mince words: In an increasingly competitive global economy, every city and state wants to attract talent and improve business conditions. There’s always room for improvement, and any locality that’s content to rest on its laurels is apt to lose ground to hungrier competitors. Accordingly, Floridians shouldn’t expect that improving Florida’s economic climate will be fast or easy. There may be setbacks along the way. But the history of Florida is rife with examples of disciplined, visionary citizens and business leaders who stared adversity in the eye and said, “We’ve got this.”
Here’s to doing it again.