Sean Helton visited us for lunch On October 25, 2018 to cover how Enterprise Florida, the state’s principal economic development organization, has worked to market Florida as a top business location over the last three years. Most of us arrived at Sean’s session knowing that hospitality is one of the most important industries in Florida, and some might have known that the state’s population keeps growing each year. Before the session, we were excused to think that people come to Florida as tourists, experience sunrise in Fort Lauderdale, and never leave again. After hearing Sean out, we learned a new story.
Sean started with a surprising bit of information: 20% of all exporting companies in the US are based in Florida. The state exports to more than 190 countries in the world. You may be wondering how is that possible if the main export is oranges, but no, the main export is commercial aircraft. Are oranges the second most important export then? No, that’s phone equipment. In fact, oranges are not in the list of the top 50 Florida exports. The reason why international trade is such an important part of the Florida economy is not what made the state famous 100 years ago, but an impressive infrastructure of ports, airports, and roads, which makes it ideally suited for international logistics.
Top 10 Florida Exports:
Source: Florida International Business Highlights, Enterprise Florida
Another important Florida industry was also a surprise: sports. 16 million people invested $12 billion in the sports industry in Florida last year. Is sports the second industry in Florida, after hospitality? No, that’s defense. There are 20 military bases in the state, plus the top space port in the country: Kennedy Space Center. Construction is another industry that you might have guessed was important by looking at all the building cranes over the Fort Lauderdale skyline. It is true that the construction industry employs over 6 million people in Florida. But construction is not the reason why Enterprise Florida says that the future is here.
Kemet, a technology company, relocated its HQ to Florida in 2018 Photo: Art Sign Company
When you add up all the innovation flowing through the state because of international trade and aerospace, it makes Florida the ideal place for the next headquarters of any company. Enterprise Florida has boiled it down to the “boundless” concept: Florida will give you easy access to international markets, the freedom to innovate, and the potential of a growing population to expand your business without limits. The campaign was broadly picked up by media despite a somewhat limited investment and a team of just three people. Sean learned that “it’s OK to be basic” when you have a powerful story. LinkedIn and some strategic media investments have helped. Let the “Florida Man” memes go viral and focus on being the HQ for the future: a story with more juice than all of Florida oranges.