‘Global player’: Chamber chief says growing state will grapple with medical marijuana, casinos

Matt Algarin
Brad Swanson, Florida Chamber of Commerce

With Florida poised to surpass New York as the third most populated state, Brad Swanson from the state's Chamber of Commerce says small businesses will play a tremendous role in upcoming elections.

"I can give you a list as long as my arm of examples of how the Destin Chamber of Commerce has stepped up when many other business groups across the state were hemming and hawing," said Swanson, vice president of corporate and strategic partnerships. "The nice thing about this chamber of commerce is that you have empowered yourself and your staff to be on that leadership edge."

Speaking at the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce's Leaders in Business Lunch at Destin United Methodist Church Tuesday, Swanson was on hand to give the group of about 100 an update on current legislative issues.

Looking at the state's predicted growth, Swanson said by 2030 Florida's population would grow by roughly 6 million residents. He said four out of five jobs that will accompany that growth will be from small businesses.

With an upcoming race for the governor's seat, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and potentially the state's chief financial officer up for grabs, the political landscape of Florida could shift significantly. Not to mention, there are 20 senate and 120 races in the House of Representatives, Swanson noted.

"The key for the future of Florida's voting electorate is the business community," he said, adding that it's crucial for businesses to get their employees involved in the political process.

As a non-partisan body, Swanson said the Florida Chamber of Commerce doesn't have a preference between Republican or Democrat, as they simply back the most "pro-business candidate."

As for the "big issues" facing the legislature and state, Swanson pointed to the medical marijuana issue; education reform; tax cuts; trade logistics; managing state pensions; casino-style gaming; water resources; and growth management.

Looking at the medical marijuana debate, polls show that if the measure was to make it on a ballot, there could be enough support for legalization.

"When you look at the Florida brand — tourism, family friendly — Colorado is going through convulsions right now trying to figure out how to advertise their state," Swanson said. "In the state of Florida, it's polling pretty well and it looks like it has a good possibility of passing."

Talking about the state's education system, Swanson said tremendous progress has been made, but the state should start benchmarking its student success against global competitors.

"Our kids these days are not competing with Georgia, not competing with Alabama, and they are not competing with Mississippi," he said. "They are competing with China and India..."

As for casino gaming, Swanson there is a proposed project in Miami that would have a tremendous footprint. He said the gaming floor alone would be as big as five Bellagio's, and there would still be enough room for a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Swanson said casinos have the opposite effect on business from beaches — the further away from a casino a business locates, "the more opportunity you have for your business to live."

"This is a huge distraction taking away from the real issues in Florida," he said.

The Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, and its president and CEO Shane Moody, have issued resolutions against casino-style gaming in Florida, saying it doesn't fit the family friendly image.

To learn more about the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the issues they follow visit www.floridachamber.com.

As the state continues to grow, Swanson told the group that Florida is poised for success.

"We are a global player," he said. "Florida is a big deal."