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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Workforce Florida, streamlining by adding another layer of bureaucracy: Cost $750,000

Keeping bureaucratic wheels greased, patronage alive and fixing things that aren't broken is a time honored vocation of a class of government bureaucrats and hangers on that goes back to the Greeks and the Romans. Florida, known by many to be a world class act in this regard, is at it again. This time, it is funneling $750,000 to Don Upton, a.k.a. Fairfield Index, to facilitate the realignment of Florida's 24 Workforce Boards, that most agree – even with a few highly publicized problems, collectively are among the best in the nation and don't need any realigning. The proposed participants of the new North Central Region met in Lake City's Holiday Inn on Monday morning to attempt to figure out what the state has up its sleeve.


Rusty Skinner of Workforce Connection stands in front of a power point, whose US maps were from 2006 and featured Southern Minnesota in 2007.

When the Super Eight concept was announced by Workforce Florida (WFI), all the regions in the state were left scrambling to figure out what was going on.

Cheryl Rehberg, the Executive Director of Workforce, region 6, introduced herself and got right to the point, "When we found out about the Florida Eight initiative my colleagues and I started a conversation. This morning we hope to learn about the Florida Eight initiative."

There are 24 Workforce Boards in Florida. The rules and legislation governing Florida Workforce Boards are established and come from the federal government. Workforce Boards are the people side of economic development.

"JC" John Chastain, the Executive Director of Florida Crown, region 7, told the Observer, "The purpose of economic development is to bring business and jobs into a community, be it a little city, a big-city, a county or a region, which may be composed of more than one county. The purpose of Workforce is to find, train and retrain a workforce to fill those jobs created by economic development. Workforce boards do this by the totality of the services they supply to people."

Ms. Rehberg introduced Rusty Skinner the CEO of Workforce Connection, region 10, who led the conversation.

Mr. Skinner began by asking the group how many knew about the Florida Eight initiative. There was only one person that raised their hand with confidence. Then he told the gathering what he knew about Florida Eight.

Mr. Skinner:  Evidentially, Workforce Florida in its strategic plan identified that it wants to try and develop a broader base of economic development and workforce collaboration than currently exists. They focused around the eight economic development regions that were decided on between Enterprise Florida and the Florida Economic Development Council... Fairfield Index is to be a convener and a facilitator for the project. We decided to meet and try to figure out how we all fit within this idea, before we try to put something together and get Mr. Upton involved. In order to get Mr. Upton involved, we need to submit an application, if that's really where we want to go.

Like everyone the Observer has spoken with, Mr. Skinner was having trouble wrapping his arms around the concept. "I guess the question in all of our minds is what does Florida Eight do that we are not doing now? All I can say is just get us all in the ring at one time."

Mr. Skinner pointed out that his workforce region and others are already reaching out to other regions and working on a broad scale and asked, "How does this affect what we’ve been up to for years?"

A little straight talk. "They are building another bureaucracy"

Frank McGeown, former Chairman of the Board of Florida Works, region 9, a small businessman, who actually is not guaranteed a paycheck unless he goes out and does business which makes money got right to it without bureaucratic mumbleeze. "I got some questions and some observations," he said.

"What’s the impetus behind this? Economic times are very difficult for everybody. We are introducing another whole layer of bureaucracy between WFI, AWI, this layer and then we're going to be down here."

Then he said what everybody was thinking and saying, although not on the record, "The money given to Upton, Fairfield Index, three-quarter of a million dollars is money we could have used in our regions."

Mr. McGeown continued, "To me they are going in the wrong direction by trying to create these regions -- we might partner up with Space Coast to hire engineers to come work in our region as opposed to having this super region ultimately control everything that is going to happen."

Mr. Skinner:  I don't think this is about control.

Mr. McGeown:  They are building another bureaucracy.

Mr. Skinner:  I think our challenge is not to let the bureaucracy take place here."

Mr. McGeown asked, "What economic advantage does this bring to our people right here?

No one had an answer.

Rick (last name inaudible) from Taylor County added to the conversation: I have some of the same concerns... I came to this meeting this morning with the idea that this is probably a waste of time. I may be inclined to change my mind based upon my experience with North Florida broadband endeavor.

"We are already there."

Florida Works Kim Tesch-Vaught joined in:  I went to Florida Eight's website and saw how they are describing our region. There is so much not there that is happening on a daily basis. If they want partnership and collaboration, we are doing it and they don't know that we are. If this is the portal that allows me to bring my team -- my staff, to work with your staff -- we're doing the work. They can talk about planning and projecting, but I'm telling you we are already there.

Long time Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams:  The way I view it, it's another trump card... It's not about us, it's about the region... Any time you can have another partner -- I don't see it as a takeover, I see it as a compliment.


Jeff Hendry (left) was for giving the idea a try. Economic Development Expert and past workforce board member, Craig Womer said there wasn't enough information to make a decision.

Jeff Hendry of FSU's Institute of Governmental Affairs and Chairman of the North Florida Economic Development Partnership, may have been the most experienced meeting attender at the gathering. He wanted to give it a try:  "We have not capitalized in the region on the bookends of FSU and UF... The money [$750,000] has been committed. We would be foolish not to try to maximize what we can get out of it. We have the opportunity to make the people that are getting paid be accountable for what they are producing."

Ms. Rehberg of region 6 rejoined the conversation, "Andra Cornelius told me the whole goal is to get economic development and workforce joined together. We have that in our region. I believe we have it in all of these counties. That's not the same all across the state."

The Super Region's Partners – Everybody but the kitchen sink.

After it was agreed that Rusty Skinner and Jeff Hendry would be the co-chairs of the proposed North Central Region of the Super Eight, there was discussion regarding the regions partners that should be sitting at the table.

They are: universities, colleges, regional workforce board chairs, community development block grant folks, commissioners, elected officials, NFEC, schools, superintendents, PACE, the Regional Educational Association, Well Florida, Manufacturers Association, utilities, railroads, financial institutions, airport authorities, DOT, water management districts, DOE, and the Regional Planning Council.

If everybody shows up, the next meeting will have to be held in the infield at Daytona.

Epilogue

Everyone who was in attendance agreed to join the super region. They really did not have a choice and it was obvious that everyone knew it.

All protestations aside, no one really had a heartfelt disagreement with Mr. McGowan when he said, "They are building another bureaucracy."

If Governor Scott is truly looking to streamline Florida's economic development footprint, he should stop this foolishness posthaste, recapture as much of the $750,000 that is going to Don Upton as he can and put the money to productive use, like teaching kids and some of the grand pooh paahs in Tallahassee how to read, because if they could, they would have seen that the PowerPoint presentation that WFI has been sending around includes US maps, the latest of which are from 2006.

The icing on the cake is that the power point features 2006-7 Southern Minnesota counties as an example. Hmmm.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Columbia County Economic Development: Will Lake City continue as the "red-headed step child?" (August 4, 2011)

Workforce Florida, streamlining by adding another layer of bureaucracy: Cost $750,000 (July 27, 2011)

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