“What’s Next?” was the question ULI posed at last year’s Fall Meeting in Los Angeles. Kicking off its 75th Anniversary year, the Institute published a special report by that name laying out the major demographic, technological, and social changes that will dramatically reshape the land use industry in coming decades. Throughout the year, ULI members across the country have addressed the questions raised in that document—and their insights will be reported in a follow-up “What’s Next” report that will be released at this year’s Fall Meeting , Oct. 16-19, in Denver.

ULI’s Florida District Councils brought the “What’s Next?” topics to the state level in June, convening a statewide summit in St. Petersburg. The leaders of Florida’s four largest cities, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami-Dade County focused on how the state’s four big urban regions can thrive in the 21st century. Those regions are home to 78 percent of the state’s population and generate 85 percent of its Gross State Product (GSP).

A regional focus is critical for success, according to ULI Chairman Peter Rummell, who moderated the panel. “The issues of 21st century global competition are simply too large and complex – and moving too fast – to be solved one locality at a time,” he said. “The solutions are at the regional scale, and we compete globally at the regional scale.”

Rummell added, “Although there are several different Floridas, the focus needs to be on how to weave that diversity together into a unified state with common policies. If we can do that, the whole of Florida will be greater than its parts.” Each of the mayors stressed the importance of working across jurisdictional lines on the big issues that cannot be solved by governments acting in isolation.

“When the public and private sectors work together toward a shared vision, everybody benefits,” said Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. “In today’s economy, partnership is a crucial, if not a wholly necessary, function to leverage scarce assets into meaningful investments.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told participants, “The big message is the regional perspective and that we are all part of the same state, share common issues, and need to be working toward a common vision.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “It is time to stop bickering, set aside partisan politics, and quit caring who gets the credit.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez echoed the sentiment: “In South Florida we recognize that if one county benefits, we all do.”

There was remarkable agreement about what local and state government need to do to keep Florida competitive in the global economy of the 21st century:

  • Develop a guiding state vision and policy that clearly sets out what the state wants to become, considering its tax structure, climate, proximity to markets, and diversity of people. Then put together the public-private partnerships needed to achieve that vision.
  • Let cities be cities. Give them more flexibility and autonomy, less red tape, and more home rule. Also let local officials do what they need and know how to do, the mayors emphasized. For example, urban regions should be enabled to advance transit, a requisite if they are to remain competitive. 
  • Invest in connecting infrastructure to seamlessly move people and freight. As a gateway state, Florida’s ports are a critical part of that infrastructure. The increased business that will result from the widening of the Panama Canal will help make Florida an economic powerhouse, they said. 
  • Invest in education. To make Florida the number one place in the U.S. for locating or expanding a business, the state needs to become number one in education, making higher education accessible to all residents. It also means investing in ways to move research to the marketplace –and creating more value-added tech jobs.

The mayors outlined ways in which Florida’s big four cities are well-positioned to thrive in the “what’s next” economy:

In Jacksonville, the recent creation of a Downtown Investment Authority will draw from the power of private investment in the urban core with a goal of building a 24-hour hub of business and entertainment. “Downtown should be a destination to help make Jacksonville the most vibrant, competitive city it can be,” said Brown.

Downtown Miami is attracting foreign investors and a younger population. Instead of being overbuilt, as it was just a few years ago, the excess units are now sold out, and investments in the cultural arts are proving to be a powerful magnet, Gimenez told participants.

Orlando is experiencing real growth in its downtown, thanks to investments in transit-oriented development and creation of an innovative business cluster. Sun Rail alone has led to some $500,000 million in investments, Dyer said.

And Tampa Mayor Buckhorn noted that the creative class wants a cool 24-hour lively urban environment. One way to achieve that in Tampa is to build on one of the city’s urban assets – such as the Hillsborough River. The focus, said Buckhorn, is on making the river a unifier, not a dividing line, and using it to attract all ages downtown.