EDITOR’S NOTE: Log Reporter Matt Algarin is a member of this year’s Destin Forward class. He will be filing stories monthly chronicling his experiences in the Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program.
Strolling through the streets of downtown Tallahassee, there is a certain vibe in the air, a sense of urgency — let’s call it democracy in motion.
Men and women in business suits litter the streets, carrying briefcases and folded up newspapers under their arms as they scurry from building to building conducting the day’s affairs.
As part of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Destin Forward Class, my classmates and I loaded up on a bus bright and early and made our way to the state Capitol for a day full of representatives, senators and movers and shakers.
Sitting in the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s office, Brad Swanson, vice president of corporate and strategic partnerships, briefed us on the role of the Florida Chamber and surprised me with a couple of facts about the state.
Did you know that Florida has roughly 19 million residents? If the state of Florida were its own country, it would have the 19th largest economy in the world, behind Turkey.
In the coming years, Swanson said, Florida will pass New York as the third most populated state. Another statistic that blew my mind was the number of Florida Chamber of Commerce-endorsed candidates that won their respective races during the last election cycle. If you were wondering, it was 111 out of 118 candidates.
Looking around the state, Swanson said that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, adding that $565 billion of the state’s total $754 billion GDP comes from small businesses.
With that said, the state has to find ways to make it easier to do business in Florida, Swanson told us. He also said part of the state’s success moving forward would be based on the ability to promote college students to earn degrees that are needed in the state.
“India graduates more engineering degrees than the U.S. does total degrees,” he said.
One depressing tid-bit: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) told us that Escambia County, Florida, had the highest per capita murder rate in the entire state.
And despite being in Tallahassee, Gaetz said he is well aware of the issues plaguing the choked up harbor and navigation channel in Destin.
And he said immediate action is needed.
“The feds aren’t keeping up with what they’ve articulated in Destin,” Gaetz said.
As we milled around the 25-story Capitol, which was built in 1978 and has more than 1.5-acres of marble, it was easy to feel inspired to make a difference. When you are in the building with between 4,000 and 5,000 people (on the day we visited), even a jaded journalist can become inspired.
So, if you are lacking the motivation or drive to make a difference, take the short trip to Tallahassee and renew that sense of pride, and become a conduit for change.
WHAT IS DESTIN FORWARD?
Destin Forward is the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program that gives participants a “behind the scenes” look at the city of Destin through various programs and educational opportunities. To learn more about the annual program, visit www.destinchamber.com or call 850-837-2711.