Tallahassee team: Lawmakers Ausley, Shoaf, Tant find common ground at Chamber conference

From Tallahassee Democrat

AMELIA ISLAND — When it comes to advancing the Tallahassee region, the Leon County legislative delegation says it’s people before politics.

Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port. St. Joe, headlined the opening night of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s annual weekend conference Thursday.

The three spoke during a Chamber board of directors meeting and engaged an audience of representatives of the region’s bankers, builders, lawyers, developers, nonprofits and local politicians in an hourlong discussion about the Legislature and economic development.

Shoaf, the lone Republican in the delegation, in his opening remarks told the audience the three have a good working relationship – talk weekly – and stick together as one unit to advance the region’s interests.

All three represent sections of Leon County before the legislature.

“We have a very unique business climate here in the Panhandle,” said Shoaf in a comparison of North Florida to the rest of the state. “We have employers that can drive 15 to 20 minutes and enjoy certain benefits in Georgia and Alabama than here in Florida and so we have to compete with that.”

Officials said about 500 people are attending the Chamber’s three-day conference, which includes panel discussions, philanthropy and social events organized around the theme of “advancing our community.”

The lawmakers highlighted childcare, affordable housing, and education/workforce development as three issues policy makers at the local and state level need to address to grow the region’s economy.

Shoaf said businesses want to come to North Florida but when they can’t hire a trained workforce, they move on.

He said the state can do a better job engaging with business owners to learn, “specifically what we can do to tailor educational programs that benefit you.”

“I know that we as a state can’t train for Bob’s Plumbing and Mike’s AC, but we can do a better job of identifying specific overlapping traits and skills and then begin to put those into the curriculum,” said Shoaf.

Tant agreed with Shoaf’s analysis but approached the question from the other side and asked, but where are the jobs?

“You can go ahead and create a certificate for whatever, but where are they going to actually work?” Tant asked. “You can’t go create a certificate on something when there’s no place for a young person to go to work.”

Ausley proposed when students reach middle school, the state should inform parents what jobs are available in which fields and identify career pathways, as a solution.

When asked how to build a better climate for business, Ausley said a lack of affordable childcare for working families was holding back growth.

She said the childcare economic model does not work, forcing many parents with young children out of the workforce.

“Parents cannot pay what it costs to a pay a (daycare) teacher,” said Ausley. “The only solution is a state investment and a federal investment.”

Shoaf said the 800-pound gorilla in the room for businesses was tort reform.

“Slip and fall, burdensome lawsuits” plague businesses, said Shoaf.

“Whether you know it or not, it either directly is hurting you or it’s indirectly hurting you with your premiums,” said Shoaf.

When asked by an audience member how to improve the overall climate (business, political, civil) of the capital city, the three legislators took different approaches.

Shoaf, endorsed the leadership approach taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis in keeping the state open for businesses and enabling people “to live our lives and go to church and do all the things that make us great,” said Shoaf.

“We’re seeing record numbers of people moving here, record numbers of businesses coming here and that’s because I think we are doing it right,” said Shoaf.

Tant promoted high-end manufacturing, clean industries, and fighting crime in response to the question.

“The quality of life is what really draws people to Tallahassee,” said Tant.

And Ausley used the question to return to the conference’s theme of “advancing our community.”

She pointed to a lack of civility and an inability of people to work together – across the partisan aisle – as roadblocks to addressing the issues plaguing the region.

“We all have to work at listening to people who have differing opinions and finding common ground instead of finding what divides us,” said Ausley. “I think you find the three of us do that as much as possible in the legislative process, and hope that carries to help in other places.”