Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Military Summit Underway In Jacksonville

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit is underway in Jacksonville.

The two-day summit brings together leaders in Florida’s defense industry as well as the business community, economic development experts and lawmakers “to examine the challenges and opportunities facing this important industry.”

State Rep. Mel Ponder kicked off the event with opening remarks before passing it over to Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson for a speech titled “State of Play: Preparing for Disruption and Tomorrow’s Opportunities and Ensuring Competitiveness, Prosperity and Resiliency.”

Focused on a theme of competitiveness, Wilson addressed the future of Florida’s defense industry. 

“We have enough people, and we have enough jobs. We just don’t have the right skills for the right jobs,” said Wilson, who said “diversification of the defense industry” will be key. 

Diversification is at the center of the Chamber of Commerce’s “Florida 2030 Blueprint,” which expects the Sunshine State will need 1.5 million more jobs for the estimated 26 million residents. The plan hinges on six key targets and strategies:  

  • Improving Florida’s Talent Pipeline for a Better Workforce

  • Creating Good Jobs by Diversifying Florida’s Economy

  • Preparing Florida’s Infrastructure for Smart Growth and Development

  • Building the Perfect Climate for Business

  • Making Government and Civics More Efficient and Effective

  • Championing Florida’s Quality of Life

For the blueprint to manifest into a reality, leaders like Wilson believe evolving and expanding the defense and space industries, which go hand-in-hand, are vital. 

“When you think about space… think about 67 counties and 405 cities,” Wilson said. “This is a Florida story. Not just one part of Florida story.”

Wilson then ceded the mic to retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Jones, the headliner of the event. Jones focused on Florida’s competitive advantage from a federal perspective.

Jones, who served 34 years in the military, including numerous key command and senior staff positions,  currently works for strategic consulting firm Spectrum Group and specializes in strategic planning, market analysis, international affairs, foreign military sales and more.  

Following a panel discussion on the military, defense and homeland security marketplace and a speech on emerging technologies, the topic of space cropped up once again. 

Frank DiBello, president and CEO of  Space Florida, said headquartering the U.S. Space Command in the Sunshine State “remains a high priority.”

“We need to increase the political pain if we’re going to take this action,” DiBello said. “We’re going to keep the pressure on the White House and make sure Florida is front and center.”

For that to happen, DiBello said, Florida has to do a better job at creating educational resources, such as trade schools, to pump out homegrown talent. 

“They get their employees from other companies,” DiBello said. “They have to interview seven times as many as they hire.”

There is bipartisan support for the Sunshine State’s blooming space industry. In fact, back in April, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stood behind Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plea to make Florida home to the U.S. Space Force.

“This is Florida’s time for aerospace,” DiBello said.