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Chamber Firms Up Political, Business Goals for Florida

Some of Florida’s top business leaders were set to hear Wednesday from former Speaker Newt Gingrich on health care, but on Tuesday focused on the role of education in propelling the state out of its economic slump.

While the national discourse has been dominated by the debate over health care reform, on the state level, a bigger issue may be improving education, participants in the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting said Tuesday.

Florida has a 10.7 percent unemployment rate and one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates. And Chamber members have been promoting education as a way to sling-shot itself out of the economic slump.

“It's time to match our university system and our economic development system,” said Florida Chamber president Mark Wilson.

Participants in some forums said the state needed to do more in promotion of early childhood education. Rich Morrison, immediate past president of the Early Learning Advisory Council, cautioned that children will never be able to “catch up” if they fall behind early on. He also pressed the business community to continue its push for more education funding.

“The business community can push the agenda,” he said. “Social do-gooders – no offense – can't.”

On Wednesday, Chamber members will hear from Gingrich, who, in addition to giving the D.C. perspective on the health care debate, will moderate a session on health care solutions for employers.

Also on the agenda for the three day conference is the controversial amendment that would alter growth changesand the Chamber’s 2010 legislative agenda.

The growth debate is over Amendment Four, a proposal by New Smyrna-based Hometown Democracy, which would require changes to local comprehensive growth plans to be approved by local voters at the polls. Backers say the measure would end what they call undue influence by local developers.

The Florida Chamber and other business groups have been firmly opposed to the proposed amendment though, arguing that it would make it much more difficult for local governments to make even small, necessary changes for local community growth.

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