The region’s most pressing issues are high unemployment and over-reliance on industries that are tied to the region’s population growth, which means that they are influenced by migration trends and swings in consumer confidence and spending. The result is over-exaggerated and problematic economic cycles that are particularly acute in lower income and disadvantaged communities. An additional problem is the widening gap between the skills and education of residents, especially those with lower incomes and the many who are unemployed or underemployed, and the skills and education required to access today’s jobs. Also important is helping new businesses emerge from within the region, especially from lower income and disadvantaged urban, suburban, and rural communities – ranging from distressed inner cities and their surrounding neighborhoods to depressed rural communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Strategies to support emerging and existing businesses include establishing communities or districts that nurture creativity and innovation, creating small business incubators close to transit, providing financial and technical assistance for microenterprises, and working with the region’s universities to establish a seven-county science, technology, and research corridor. The region must also seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand its role as a global hub for trade, travel, and investment following the widening of the Panama Canalin 2014. It is essential, therefore, that the region undertake efforts through a coordinated regional economic strategy to diversify and strengthen its economic base and, in doing so, provide affordable opportunities for creating new businesses and jobs and investments. By helping existing businesses to expand and creating an environment where new businesses are created and nurtured, economic growth can be achieved. Of equal importance, is the need to empower communities and individuals to compete in an ever-changing economic environment through enhanced educational and workforce training opportunities.
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