Each year Gulfshore Business recognizes its “40 under 40,” Southwest Floridians who have distinguished themselves in their professions and in the community. This is a great opportunity to celebrate our community’s young leaders who have earned our recognition. And Gulfshore Business’ annual “40 under 40” issue is immensely popular for precisely that reason: We get to learn about these young leaders we may not have had a chance to meet but who are making a difference— whether in business, in public service or in the not-for-profit space.
The future of SWFL is in good hands.
Of course, the future of SWFL doesn’t depend on these 40 alone. Far from it, and thankfully not. The list could easily be expanded to “50 under 40” or “60 under 40,” and you’d likely find little difference between the merits of the 40th person selected and the person who would have been No. 41 if the list extended that far.
I’m thankful our future depends on leaders—big and small—beyond these 40. Having lots of young leaders in place is what financial analysts refer to as diversification. Our future is certain precisely because we have such a large and diverse group of leaders of all ages and backgrounds. And while many were born in Florida, most were not. Yet all Floridians benefit when great people want to join us in our dynamic and growing regional economy.
Next year we’ll recognize another 40, and we’ll celebrate an additional 40 the year after that. But what about the leadership we’ll have in place 20 years from now, when this year’s “40 under 40” will have aged to become the “40 under 60?”
The long-term vitality of Southwest Florida depends critically on how we are treating the “quarter-million under 20,” because that’s how many Southwest Floridians under 20 reside in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. How can we make sure Southwest Florida remains welcoming and full of opportunity for this next generation of leaders?
Economists like me, as well as our economics majors at FGCU, can tell you some basic things we can do to make sure SWFL continues to be a dynamic economy that gives the “quarter-million under 20” the basics they need to thrive as our future leaders.
First, and as I mentioned in the April issue, we need to make sure housing remains affordable for young families here in Southwest Florida. Some simple policy changes such as relaxing zoning and other land-use regulations can usher in abundant affordable new housing for both existing and new Floridians.
Second, we need to ensure the “quarter-million” have abundant educational options at every level. Young families need to be able to actively choose from among a broad variety of possibilities. We’ll have a generation of young people who are better prepared for the workplace when we give them the freedom to select the educational opportunity that fits them best.
The same holds true for higher education, too. It’s wonderful that we have so many unique college options here in SWFL. Whether FSW, FGCU, Hodges or Ave Maria, among others, students and their families have lots of choices from which to select a college that fits their needs—and budgets—best.
Lastly, while higher education is important, it’s not the only avenue to success. That’s why we need to work hard to preserve the entrepreneurial character of SWFL and maintain its fertile soil, and to celebrate the dignity of all hard work in the valuable service of others.
A quarter-million young people are counting on us to get it right.
Victor V. Claar is an associate professor of economics in Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business, where he holds the BB&T Distinguished Professorship in Free Enterprise. He also serves on the Research Advisory Council of the James Madison Institute.