JACKSONVILLE – The Florida Chamber kicked off its two-day “Military, Defense and Veterans” summit on Tuesday.
Chamber President Mark Wilson addressed the “State of Play: Preparing for Disruption and Tomorrow’s Opportunities and Ensuring Competitiveness, Prosperity and Resiliency.”
His speech addressed where Florida’s defense industry is, and where it’s going. The merger of the military and the marketplace.
Wilson described Florida’s future as at a “crossroads,” with the defense industry offering one way forward.
“We’re going to grow by 4.5 million people in 10 years,” Wilson said.
With more than 23,000 military veterans and 8,000 retirees, Clay County plays a lead role in Florida’s defense industry.
The goal is for Florida to be the 10th largest economy in the world by the end of the next decade. Parallel to that, an ongoing goal: to be the “most veteran-friendly state.”
Wilson lauded Gov. Ron DeSantis for a couple of programs, including pro bono legal services for service members, and his “Forward March” program that offers safety net services to vulnerable veterans.
The state will need 1.5 million jobs, and “veterans and military provide the perfect marriage,” Wilson said, regarding filling a persistent “talent gap.”
“We have enough people, and we have enough jobs. We just don’t have the right skills for the right jobs,” Wilson said.
A focus on the military is central to the Chamber’s Florida 2030 Blueprint, Wilson said. The aim is to improve economic diversity — moving beyond construction and tourism — from No. 18 in the country to No. 12.
“We’re well on our way,” Wilson said.
But “diversification of the defense industry” is the key.
“I hope there are no questions why this is so important to the Florida Chamber,” Wilson added.
Space also is the place, Wilson said; Space Florida will focus on getting the Space Command in the state.
“When you think about space … think about 67 counties and 405 cities,” Wilson said. “This is a Florida story. Not just one part of Florida story.”
Not all diversification is good for Florida; Wilson worries about one particular flashpoint — offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He issued a warning about the moratorium that ends in 2022.
“If Congress doesn’t deal with the moratorium expiring, we will have drilling nine miles off our coast,” Wilson said.
A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for more than two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at email@example.com.