December 13, 2018

How can Florida grow smarter? A new plan by the Florida Chamber Foundation aims to answer that question

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Laura Layden, Naples Daily News

Smarter buildings and more electric cars. Millions more people and yet a crushing need for talent.

Those are all part of the picture that emerged of the near future as dozens of business, industry, community and elected leaders from around the state gathered for the Florida Growth & Infrastructure Summit in Southwest Florida hosted by the Florida Chamber Foundation.

The event, held at Babcock Ranch in Port Charlotte on Tuesday, drew about 100 people. The speakers challenged attendees to think outside the box and to think long term when it comes to Florida’s future.

“There’s an opportunity to change the world for everyone who is sitting here today,” said Todd Powell, a vice president for real estate development at Weyerhaeuser and the chairman of the Florida Chamber Foundation.

He pointed to Babcock Ranch as an example of how to change the world. It bills itself as the country’s first fully solar town.

The town, which is being built on 18,000 acres, is expected to have 19,500 homes and 50,000 residents in 20 to 25 years. The developers, Kitson & Partners, preserved more than 90 percent of the original ranch.

“There is nothing short-term here,” Powell said of the project.

Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, talked about his vision for the sustainable community. It includes energy-efficient homes and self-driving electric shuttles.

“People actually want to live in a place like this,” he said. “And that’s very important.”

Over the past year, more than 150 homes have sold in Babcock Ranch, where there are a handful of homebuilders.

Kitson said he hopes others will follow in his company’s footsteps by creating similar communities where residents don’t have to drive anywhere.

“For us the holy grail is storage for renewable energy,” he said. “And FPL is using Babcock as a living laboratory to test the technology out.”

The Florida Chamber Foundation presented its Florida 2030 Growth and Infrastructure goals and recommendations at the summit, which include better preparing Florida’s infrastructure for smart growth and development.

The goal of summit is not just to share information but to get leaders across the state engaged in finding solutions.

The foundation is the research and solutions development arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a statewide business advocacy group.

The only way to succeed with the 2030 plan is for community, business and government leaders to work together, said Mark Wilson, the chamber’s president and CEO.

The plan is built around six pillars, including talent supply and education and business,  climate and competitiveness, and infrastructure and growth leadership.

“We think the vision is possible if we stay united,” Wilson said.

Here are some of the long-term plan’s goals that fall under infrastructure and growth:

  • To provide diverse, attainable housing to meet demand.
  • To ensure every resident has access to public and private mobility services.
  • To have all major population and economic centers connected to regional, national and global markets by high-capacity corridors.
  • To offer the world’s most capable spaceport and top-tier airports, seaports and surface transportation hubs in the U.S.
  • To develop diverse and reliable energy, water and waste management resources to meet demand.

Some of the recommended solutions? To plan for the adoption of electric vehicles, connected homes and businesses, and to introduce and develop the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other emerging technology within the state.

By 2030 the state’s population is expected to grow by 5 million, making it home to 26 million residents.

Florida 2030 is based on three years of research and input from more than 10,000 Floridians. It’s designed to transform Florida into a Top 10 global economy.

One of the speakers at the summit, Michael Brown, an executive vice president and general manager of Skanska USA, noted that 2030 is only 11 years away.

“This is not a distant concept,” he said. “This is upon us.”

By 2030 there will be fewer computers connected to the internet and more consumer devices, such as smartphones, he said.

Buildings will be much smarter, too, Brown said.

“When you walk into a room in 2030, the room is going to know you are there,” he said.

In 2030, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce, and 50 percent of the workforce will work remotely. Those are big shifts that the state needs to plan for now, Brown said.

Then there are self-driving cars, which are expected to grow in popularity, and communities will have to plan for that change on the roads and in neighborhoods, he said.

Tony Carvajal, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber Foundation, discussed several of the actions that need to be taken to keep the state competitive in an increasingly global economy. It will be critical to not only have the right spaces and places, but the right people in place, he said.

“It’s about talent,” he said. “It’s about people. How we compete is going to be about the people we have.”