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Florida’s economic future depends on you

Dear Editor,

Everyone loves when a plan comes together.

What’s even better is when a community comes together behind a plan.

That’s exactly what happened last week when more than 30 leaders in education, government, workforce and economic development from across our region gathered at North Florida Community College and said, “we’re in” to helping Florida rise to a new level of educational attainment that can only lead to a better economy and a better quality of life.

A partnership funded by grants from the prestigious Lumina Foundation and Helios Education Foundation, and additional support from CareerSource Florida and the Florida College Access Network, “RISE to 55” is a campaign intended to help the entire state of Florida achieve a new level of educational attainment.  Led by Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council, the goal is to increase the percentage of our residents who hold a college degree or specialized certificates from the current rate of 47 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

At the meeting, community leaders explored how focusing on the needs of North Florida to make incremental achievements in our region will contribute to the statewide goal. As one member of this group whose career is devoted to creating employment opportunities for our region’s residents and assuring our employers of a ready workforce, the gathering was particularly important to me.

Availability of skilled labor tops the list of critical factors in determining where a company will expand or relocate, according to a survey by Area Development. As the Economic Development Office of Suwannee County and our partners in surrounding areas continue attracting companies to North Florida, our pro-business tax climate will not be enough to keep them here unless we also have the intellectual assets to maximize business success.

An exciting and interactive visioning exercise led us to several conclusions that will undoubtedly drive regional efforts through 2025 to reach higher rates of educational attainment:

North Florida must not only encourage our residents to further their education, but also create opportunities for career advancement by attracting the kind of businesses to the region that can support their career aspirations;

Our region must adopt the mindset that a high school diploma is not the finish line – it is a milestone along the pathway to postsecondary education and a better quality of life; and

Partners across the region must recognize and understand barriers to postsecondary education, and work together in the innovation of new ways to reach the finish line.

“RISE to 55” is a movement for today, as well as for the future. It can mean educational and career achievements for those presently in the academic and employment pipeline, as well as the promise of a better future for our children and grandchildren.

As leaders in the community, we must each bring our unique perspectives to the conversation and do whatever is within our power today to ensure our region has the talent it needs for a stronger economy tomorrow.

I invite you to join me and “RISE to 55.”

~ Dr. Alvin B. Jackson, Jr., Director, Economic Development

Suwannee County

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