Orlando Sentinel, By Paul Brinkmann
Cashiers, cleaners, servers and other workers in Florida’s gigantic service sector are a key to the state’s economic future, several experts said Wednesday at the annual forum of Florida Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Florida.
Diversifying the economy with industrial and tech jobs was also a major focus, and the chamber released statistics that said Central Florida is actually more diverse than other regions of the state, if you include Brevard County.
“Companies that invest in service workers, pay them more, get them involved in quality, see them as a source of customer engagement… have more productivity, higher profits,” said Richard Florida, author and urban studies theorist.
Florida was a keynote speaker at the Future of Florida Forum. He also took a swipe at the Republican presidential nominee, saying that creative entrepreneurs gravitate to “Places that are open to immigrants — sorry, Donald Trump.”
His speech followed comments from Mark Wilson, president of the Florida chamber, who said people might be surprised to hear that the Orlando area – including Brevard County and the Space Coast – have a more diverse economy than the rest of the state, because of the tech, space and defense-related jobs here. Wilson acknowledged that those stats probably would surprise many people who only think of Disney and tourism when they consider Orlando.
Richard Florida didn’t offer any concrete suggestions for how to invest in service workers, such as the national “Fight for 15″ wage effort that has raised minimum wage to $15 in some major cities.
But he said Florida and specifically Orlando are an epicenter of service jobs and could benefit from better treatment of service workers.
“It’s important that we upgrade the service economy if we want to build a fully sustainable economy,” he said. “There’s no better place to make the retail sector part of the creative economy.”
Randy Berridge, president of the High Tech Corridor that runs from Tampa to the Space Coast, said Richard Florida’s speech highlighted important issues.
“Disney especially is a major asset for us here. I’ve met with companies who said they are considering Orlando for expansion or relocation just because we have tens of thousands of people who have been trained by Disney,” Berridge said.
Berridge said he just wished Richard Florida had been given more time to talk.