Q & A with Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce
by Boardroom Brief Staff on April 29, 2011
1. The Florida Chamber of Commerce is the voice of Florida’s business community; it is the largest business association with more than 137,000 members representing more than three million employees. With more than 80 percent of your members from small businesses, your agenda advocates for many who are confronting the most challenging economic era of our time. What is THE most important issue you would like Governor Rick Scott and our State Legislature to address in 2011 to improve the business climate and make Florida a better state to live and work?
We have to focus on strengthening the economy and returning Florida to the number one job creator in the nation. In order to accomplish this, we must grow the private sector by reducing regulations, stabilizing and ultimately lowering business taxes, reforming our legal, education and insurance systems.
2. Founded in 1916, the Florida Chamber has been a key player in driving the state’s growth and shaping its development through advocacy, research and reform strategies. In an effort to stay focused on your members’ concerns, you spearheaded the development of the “Florida Business Agenda.” Built by the consensus of thousands of chamber members, associations and other associated groups, the “Florida Business Agenda” annually identifies issues of paramount concern and outlines solutions. Can you discuss some of the significant priorities topping this year’s agenda?
The Florida Chamber’s Business Agenda, also known as our Agenda for Jobs, is a collection of priority issues our members report will make Florida a more stable and attractive state to create jobs. This year’s agenda is focused on diversifying and resetting Florida’s economy with a focus on creating jobs for Floridians. Specific legislative priorities relating to job creation and economic growth include: reforming regulations and cutting red tape, streamlining Florida’s economic development system, government pension reform, reforming government to make it faster and return it back to core services, dramatically improving Florida’s unfair legal climate and leading the United States in education reform by example and performance.
3. As the state looks to create a more balanced economy and create jobs, the Florida Chamber is pushing to double Florida’s exports in five years. Share some of the collective action and specific initiatives you are promoting to further Florida as a national leader in the international trade sector?
Florida faces a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally transform its economy and become a global hub for trade and logistics. In order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, we must:
- Increase the state economic development organization’s international budget by $10 million, positioning Florida to benefit from pending increases in global trade.
- Repeal duplicative and burdensome state regulations that mirror federal regulations that are putting Florida’s ports at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states and countries.
- Support plans to create at least one seaport with 50 feet of channel depth and with an on dock or near dock rail connection by 2014, the scheduled date of completion for the Panama Canal expansion.
- Advance planning for an integrated statewide network of trade gateways, logistics centers, and transportation corridors.
- Support expedited permitting for any inland multimodal facility moving cargo to or from Florida ports.
4. With the rapid growth of Florida’s population over the past few decades, the state’s transportation, infrastructure and water systems are being pushed to the limit. What growth leadership initiatives and reforms are you supporting in the legislature to promote sustainable growth and development?
The state needs to plan better for future growth outside urban areas using incentive-based tools which encourage compact, higher density patterns of development while also preserving open space for agriculture and conservation. Continued investments targeting rural communities will help advance economic growth by capitalizing on opportunities involving future global commerce, continuing the development of catalyst sites, and identifying and expanding logistics centers.
Ultimately, Florida needs to work toward creating a comprehensive state policy for promoting sustainable growth and development in rural areas by balancing the demands of conservation, agriculture and economic development.
The Florida Chamber supports a number of initiatives that will help Florida plan better for the future. Those include:
- Eliminate the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) mandatory review and oversight of local comp plans.
- Eliminate Florida Rule 9J-5, which governs minimum criteria for review of local government comprehensive plans and plan amendments, evaluation and appraisal reports, land development regulations and determinations of compliance.
- Remove all “need-based” language and replace with pattern of development.
- Support a moratorium on any new regulations that stunt job growth.
- Support economic development and incentive program funding for rural counties and projects, including rural enterprise zones and tax incentives, in order to remain competitive with other states’ offerings.
- Focus on existing business expansion as a source of job growth while enhancing incentives for small and medium sized business development.
- Remove any restrictions or proposed regulations that would hamper the economic viability of agricultural and other rural land uses.
- Promote diversification and increased production plan for sustainable agriculture by pursuing new product markets and new export markets.
5. One of the Florida Chamber’s Six Pillars supporting Florida’s future economy is talent supply and education. What reforms are you supporting in the legislature which will help improve Florida schools and develop a skilled workforce which is competitive in an increasingly global marketplace?
Florida’s future economy is one that will be driven by innovation, and the prospect of high-wage, knowledge-based emerging industries. We are encouraged by the early passage of SB 736 sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville), also known as the Student Success Act, which was signed into law by Governor Scott on March 24. This bill creates teacher performance pay, replaces lifetime tenure with one-year contracts and builds on the education reforms of the past.
The Florida Chamber also supports legislation that will expand access to virtual learning options and charter schools, and we support encouraging the Florida Department of Education to adopt the highest academic standards in the country.
6. In addition to serving as president and CEO of Florida’s most influential business advocacy organization, you serve on the board of directors of Enterprise Florida, Florida TaxWatch, Workforce Florida, the Florida Chamber Foundation, the Florida Council on Economic Education, as well as serving as a member of The Florida Council of 100. You work collaboratively with our state’s business leaders to produce, refine, reform and execute plans that will secure a vibrant and prosperous outcome for Florida’s future. What is the most important lesson you have learned as a result of Florida’s economic downturn? How will this lesson influence how our state leaders plan for tomorrow?
This is an important question. A major lesson learned is the importance of putting the long-term ahead of the short-term. With the Florida Chamber Foundation’s new analytics, we now know more about Florida’s future needs in education reform, infrastructure, economic development and other areas than Florida’s leaders have ever had and we should do everything in our power to use them to make smarter decisions.
For example, a few years ago voter polling indicated that two of the most pressing issues were property taxes and property insurance reform. Then Governor Crist pushed through quick fixes that were popular in the short-term, but actually placed Florida in worse shape over the long-term. With the Florida Chamber Foundation’s new analytics and six pillar framework, we now have the decision tools to make smarter decisions, and we are working closely with our partners in other organizations and our state leaders to put the long-term ahead of the short-term and to put smart policy over political expediency.
About Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida’s largest and most influential business advocacy organization. Wilson leads the substantial political, lobbying, grassroots, and economic research operations of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Through his focus on unifying the business community, Wilson created the Florida Business Agenda and the Florida Chamber Grassroots Federation, which rallies the business community on issues ranging from taxes and talent, to insurance and constitutional amendment reform. Wilson was also the first President of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a Chamber partner organization focused on improving Florida’s legal climate.
In addition to his legislative successes, Wilson is also the architect of groundbreaking statewide political campaigns in 2004 and 2006 that passed significant constitutional amendment reforms (the February 1 Signature Deadline and 60% Threshold, respectively), as well as numerous legislative and issue campaigns.
A native of Illinois, Wilson received his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and has earned the national designation of Certified Chamber Executive (CCE). Prior to joining the Florida Chamber in 1998, Wilson served as VicePresident of the Chicagoland Chamber and previously served with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Wilson serves on the board of directors of Enterprise Florida, Florida TaxWatch, Workforce Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber Foundation, the Florida Council on Economic Education and Workforce Florida, as well as serving as a member of the Florida Council of 100. Wilson is a member of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals, and currently serves on the board of the Association of State Chamber Professionals.
Wilson resides in Tallahassee with his wife, two sons and a daughter.