From the Tallahassee Democrat
AMELIA ISLAND — Leon County has a poverty and workforce problem that’s bad for business.
In January, the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce rolled out a color-coded “Community Scorecard” modeled after the Florida Chamber Foundation’s scorecard for every county.
It includes a dozen metrics that range from Leon County’s 20.5% poverty rate to 1,805 incidents of violent crimes in 2020, up from 1,699 the year before.
“There’s a lot of data and information that we as a community should look at,” said Chamber President and CEO Sue Dick, adding each area aligns with the Chamber’s strategic priority areas.
During the Chamber’s Economic Forecast event in February, the Chamber reported that Leon County lost 12,000 jobs within a year. Fast forward, and the city and state continue to struggle with workforce challenges.
“In Florida today, there are more jobs looking for people than people looking for jobs,” Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson told chamber leaders at at a board meeting Thursday at Amelia Island, hours before the annual conference was set to begin.
Dick noted that there are 13,264 open positions right now in the Tallahassee region, but only 10,392 people seeking work. The number is even lower for people actively looking for work.
“We have a talent shortage. Simply put, we need more people in the workforce and we need a workforce that is trained with skills for the future,” said Terrie Ard, president and COO of Moore and an executive board member heading up the Chamber’s talent committee.
“In fact, it is a workforce crisis that we now face,” she told Chamber leaders. “You could almost fill Ruby Diamond three times with the shortage we have.”
Dick said the scorecard has been a critical missing piece in how the community moves forward and has been the driver for the Chamber’s JobsNow initiative, which ties the need for education and vocational training to meet the city’s job growth needs.
“We all need to be looking at the same data, and we all need to understand what this data means,” she said. “All of us, the entire community. And we all need to agree it’s not just the Chamber’s data.”
The Tallahassee Democrat asked numerous public, private and nonprofit leaders to answer two questions about Leon County’s Community Scorecard:
- What is the No. 1 priority that we as a community should focus on?
- What jumps out at you, and what does Tallahassee have to do about it?
Here’s what they said.
Sammie Dixon, vice chairman, president and CEO at Prime Meridian Bank
“The Chamber’s Community Scorecard is a roadmap for getting a lot of things done and it shows the interconnectivity of measurements, such as job growth and poverty. In other words, all of these measurements are important because they paint a picture of our community’s health and progress. Prosperity is a tide. When that tide rises, through job growth and strong wages, it helps our community in so many ways, such as lower poverty and less crime. If Tallahassee can focus on moving all of these metrics in the right direction, our community will be the better for it.”
Berneice Cox, president and CEO of the United Way of the Big Bend
“What jumps out at me is that there is not just one solution. At the United Way, we’ve intentionally focused on a strategy that includes housing, early learning, health and mental health, developing skills and providing that safety net for families and seniors facing financial stress. To really make a difference we have to work together on those kinds of priorities.”
Antonio Jefferson, Board president of the Minority Chamber of Commerce
“While the unemployment rate, the Leon County poverty rate, and Total Index Crimes are showing an uptick, what jumps out to me is despite the impacts of COVID across our entire community, we as a community, have remained relatively stable year over year. I contribute this stability to our citizens, business, and non-profit leaders, elected and appointed officials, and the leadership at the Greater Tallahassee, Capital City Chamber, and the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce’s proactive approach to dealing with community issues.”
State Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee
“Crime and poverty are areas of concern. The community faces challenges in top issues such as police-community relations, affordable housing, and economic opportunities. Many steps have been taken to reform our current systems to offer meaningful criminal justice reform, but much more progress needs to be made. It will require us all to take part in the need to force an honest dialogue with law enforcement, our leaders, stakeholders, the youth, senior citizens, and the communities they serve.”
Shawn Roberts, president and CEO Mad Dog Construction
“Poverty. Everything on our community score card is influenced by it. Crime, education, healthcare, housing, workforce training, job growth: it is all influenced by poverty. If we want a vibrant and healthy community, we need vibrant and healthy businesses that can thrive and compete at all levels, and we need job growth supported by a skilled, prosperous, and well-paid work force to do that.”
Jim McShane — CEO, CareerSource Capital Region
“What jumped at me in June was the rise in the unemployment rate. We were sitting at about 8,500 less in our labor pool from last April. Now it jumped to 5.4%. One would think that this is a good number. However, our labor participation rate hovers between 55% to 65%, meaning 35-45% of the eligible workers are not looking for work. The business community is finding that attracting people to work for them is getting harder and harder. Low wages contribute to low engagement. Businesses need to develop their own pipeline of talent from K-12 to higher education. Apprenticeships, internships, and work experience can help the employer test out the skills they need and train them to their specific needs.”
Kim Moore, vice president for Workforce Innovation at Tallahassee Community College
“What jumps out at me is the current direction of our local poverty, crime and unemployment rates. This coupled with the 3rd grade reading scores. As a result, it highlights the importance and need for collaboration to address community challenges. There is no single entity that holds the key to addressing these issues. In order to move the needle, in the right direction, it will require the committed effort of ALL.”
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey
“As the Scorecard shows, we’re making strong progress in vital areas like job growth, kindergarten readiness, graduation rates, and crime, while we’ve got work to do when it comes to poverty and third-grade reading scores, though I’m encouraged by the efforts that are already underway. Every priority area listed is connected. Job growth and 3rd grade reading levels affect poverty and crime, for instance, and it’s only by acknowledging this interconnectedness that we can adequately address the challenges before us. This is why I was such a strong advocate of the Children’s Services Council.”
Leon County Commission Chairman Rick Minor
“Leon County’s poverty rate (20.5%) continues to be much higher than the statewide average (12.7%). We have serious, persistent income inequality that has only become worse since the pandemic. For our community to live up to its full potential, we must: 1) implement economic development strategies that create/attract higher wage jobs, 2) build upon our existing workforce development efforts across the entire spectrum, and 3) invest in measurable, results-based initiatives that grow our middle class by helping families lift themselves out of poverty.”
Leon County Commissioner Carolyn Cummings
“At the present time, our No. 1 priority should be protecting our children and families from the deadly effects of the COVID-19 Delta variant while balancing the need to maintain a vibrant economy with job growth and economic development. With a positivity rate of over 15%, it is imperative that the adverse economic impact of the virus on our community is addressed with aggressive policies that create jobs, support and strengthen existing employers and attract new business and industry to the area. Assuring community members are able to earn a livable wage is essential to maintaining a great and healthy quality of life for all.”
Leon County Commissioner Brian Welch
“I think our No. 1 concern is the Total Violent Crime Index. The increase in violent crimes and murder across our community has the potential of derailing progress in other areas. We will have a hard time recruiting new industries to Leon County if we can’t convince people it is a safe place to raise a family. Every cross section of the community needs to be in the same boat, rowing in the same direction when it comes to solving our crime problems.”