BY SHARON HILLSTROM

When business leaders from Manatee County visit legislators in Tallahassee in February, we’ll be talking with people whose decisions can directly and indirectly affect our local economy and quality of life.

This year, representatives from the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) will join the Legislative Committee from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce on the pilgrimage to Florida’s capital, carrying a diverse slate of recommendations for state lawmakers.

Issues range from the environment to transportation, from health care to education. Many of the planks in our platform relate to economic development and our community’s hopes for greater economic vitality and diversity.

I’d like to highlight two legislative priorities that have an effect on our ability to be successful in economic development: workforce and education.

Workforce is one of the top concerns of businesses locally and across the nation. Regardless of their industry, many businesses are struggling to find and retain employees with the necessary talents and skills. The workforce challenge is related to many issues that can be affected by state lawmakers – education and attainable housing among them.

Here are a few examples of actions we are advocating this year in Tallahassee that would help address local and statewide workforce concerns:

  • Increase recurring funding for workforce programs and fixed capital outlay projects at all regional higher education institutions to allow for program growth to meet critical regional employment needs.
  • Increase the current $4.5-million appropriation to $6.5 million for school district workforce education programs to provide performance-based industry certifications for post-secondary students.
  • Continue the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, which helps to develop workforce training programs and community infrastructure. Manatee Technical College won the fund’s first grant – $200,000 in 2018 – to purchase high-tech equipment needed to expand the Advanced Manufacturing and Production Technology program to help prepare more students for high-demand careers. Recently, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota won a $3.6-million grant to establish a Center of Innovation and Technology.
  • Pursue attainable housing solutions for workers and residents, including using all of Florida’s housing trust funds (Sadowski Act) for housing programs.

From K-12 to colleges and universities, our community’s ability to offer high-quality education is important to economic development. Companies want to locate where their employees and families can access the best in education.

Education-related priorities on our legislative agenda this year include:

  • Improving access to quality early learning, accountability measures for school readiness — including Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten readiness — and support for grade-level reading.
  • Moving away from a narrow-focus, high-stakes testing, to a more comprehensive approach based on overall student achievement.
  • Full funding of K-12 public schools at 2002 per pupil levels as a minimum.
  • Incentive Florida college scholarships for students pursuing careers teaching in Florida public schools for at least 10 years.
  • Bonding Public Education Capital Outlay Funds to expand the amount of funds available for K-12 schools and higher education fixed-capital outlay projects.
  • Funding all Florida’s Public Technical College/Centers Workforce Education Programs at a minimum equitable funding level of 100 percent of the state model as developed and approved by the State FLDOE Workforce Education Funding Committee.

Businesses face many challenges to their growth and their ability to provide higher-wage careers. State lawmakers can help remove obstacles and smooth the way for job and wage growth in our community. We look forward to collaborating with the Manatee Chamber in presenting Manatee County’s case for prosperity to our legislators next month.