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From 83 Degrees Magazine - Tampa Bay's new media sensation covering the talent, innovation, diversity and economic development of Tampa Bay from 83 Degrees in Tampa Bay.

Can Florida Nurture Industrial Clusters into Economic Growth

As the world competition for jobs, especially living wage jobs, grows more cutthroat, can Florida keep up or even prosper?

At first glance Florida seemed on top of the world just six years ago – unemployment was very low and plenty of new arrivals streamed into the state each day. There were many breakfast and lunch speakers about how great things were and how they could only get better.

The American economy boomed while instead of building an industry we went for the rest of the nation’s disposable income on vacation homes and get away trips. We’d been doing it for decades and it was better then ever.

Then the American economy fell off a cliff with the insurance and financial services crisis and recession. Now there is no disposable income to con and we have nothing to sell. Our homes are near worthless, most unemployed vainly search for work but can not leave town for jobs as their mortgages are so far upside down. Under employment is also at record highs.

So now, four years in into the total economic apocalypse, the sunshine state, the jobless state, might consider the lofty goal of upgrading its economy. Better paying jobs in Florida in meaningful numbers will not magically appear here. They must be planned for by state officials, recruited by politicians and marketed by economic development groups.

Our economy is based on property taxes controlled and collected by the government sector so obviously a centrally planned economy under the control of our government is the way of the future.

We can not depend upon business leaders we do not have. We must look to the government for business leadership as is natural.

But will it work? Florida economic (I.E. government) leaders acknowledge the state has mangled the economy in private hushed tones after several stiff drinks give them the courage to speak the truth. They also insist Florida can not recover with a century out of date dependence on the boom bust cycle of real estate dependency.

To leap forth from the 19th century into the 21st economically Florida is betting on cultivating a new branding and marketing strategy of cultivating specific business slices called “industry clusters”. That meaningless buzzword popularized by the twenty year out of date book “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” underlines Florida’s’ key strategic and intellectual weakness on job creation and workforce development.

Using a book written 21 years ago, in the 20th century, to be the philosophical guide to the 21st century seems laughable but it is progress. The book guiding us now was written in the 19th century after all.

Fortunately industry clustering is the latest fad among regional and city job strategies in Florida, after the exposure of Richard Florida’s “creative economy” as a total sham.

Lets be clear what a cluster is. It is a geographic concentration of interconnected buzzwords, cheerleaders, advertising and marketing along with a mere handful of companies in the same industry clinging to life, combined to give a thin veneer of authenticity. Successful clusters then strive to get the attention and support of the state government with incentives, tax subsidies and other benefits. These clusters depend upon the government for their existence and hence do not threaten the status quo with actual progress.

Clustering is about the government controlling and taking credit for what little amount, any amount, of economic activity that transpires despite them. It is about assuring that any growth be controlled selected and allowed by the government leaders.

Instead of creating new economies like Seattle, San Francisco or other successfully remade cities have done, Florida’s leaders are content to vie for third place has-been looser status in existing industries already created and growing elsewhere. They include;

Clean Technology (Texas)

Biotech (California)

Information Technology (San Francisco)

Aviation (The cluster Seattle wisely abandoned years ago as the industry died)


Financial and Professional Services (California)

Also under consideration are global logistics (Savannah and L.A.) which is timed to coincide with our port being to small to accommodate the larger ships passing through the expanded Panama Canal.

The worry is that without a vision beyond copying the already successful plans other cities executed on years ago we are doomed to fail. They already have succeeded in a zero-sum game. Some naysayers insist we should be planning ahead for new trends and economies untapped without competitors.

But the self-help guru that replaced Richard Florida as our form of easy to digest mental masturbation for economic developers, Mark Muro and Bruce Katz, the authors of the new cluster movement, believe with enough money spent on their consulting services we can make it work.

Some feel the fastest path to cluster success is to recruit and appoint a cluster czar in the Florida cabinet to drive momentum direction and media coverage. Some say Muro and Katz would be perfect, others think we should simply pay their consulting fees.

After all we are a cluster of followers. We are a top-down culture with even the top elite are intellectually weak minded followers of gurus and consultants.

If we do not step up now to market industry clusters we will have to spend even more money down the road to catch up. The cluster training seminars are going up in price next month again.

But no worries either way, if we cluster or don’t cluster, even if we cluster and it fails like most of our half baked ideas, the Florida sunshine is free and maybe we can all find a way to use sunshine to pay the bills.

From 83 Degrees Magazine - Tampa Bay's new media sensation covering the talent, innovation, diversity and economic development of Tampa Bay from 83 Degrees in Tampa