By Lyle Smith

A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the single largest contributors to economic development and, more important, regional job creation.

These new, vibrant companies are innovative, ambitious and more often than not carry a sense of social responsibility that helps build and
support communities. Without a sizable pool of the right people with the right skills, these businesses driving a regional economy face a serious,
even existential threat.

We took some time to chat with three of the strongest economic leaders on the Space Coast to better understand this notion of the Talent Pipeline and how having the right number of the right resources can balance the equation with business growth and answer the challenge of driving economic development across a region poised to boom.


Supply and demand—it’s one of the first concepts you learn in any introduction to economics class. The next thing you learn is the simplicity of the concept belies the complexity of the relationship. Humans like to think in terms of cause and effect. Do this. That happens. But in economics and economic development, the variety of factors involved scales in complexity very quickly.

Turn attention to the concept of talent and staffing as they apply to regional economic development, and a similar dynamic reveals itself. A region needs to launch, support and attract good businesses to support a local and regional economy. Businesses need a reliable stream of skilled, educated and affordable talent in order to thrive and grow.

An almost infinite number of variables affect the way these two needs interact with each other and the relationship is by no means cause and effect. It’s symbiotic. A large, high-quality talent pool can attract business, and create jobs, but when the pool grows, it can create a new competitive environment for those companies wanting to attract the best people.

And if the business need isn’t sufficient, in other words, if there aren’t enough jobs, the talent the region grows and pays for through it’s education system eventually migrates to a more attractive business environment.

What a healthy regional environment requires is all THREE of these things:
Strong, growing businesses that create not just jobs, but careers
A pool of skilled talent to support those companies
A targeted educational commitment that develops and directs talent toward the careers the region’s businesses require

The Good Problem

There is a unique thing happening in the Brevard County/Space Coast region in regard to employment, talent and recruiting as it pertains to economic development.

Sluggish as it might be, the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is going down. Suddenly, the number of jobs available are not matching up with the number of skilled people in the talent pool. The result is more and more companies are looking to hire specific skills and they are, more or less, pilfering the talent from each other.

There is a population of workers who don’t possess the skills these companies need. Or they have a certain skill level, but desperately want to get into a position where they establish a career. In short, there’s a shortage of talent that needs to be addressed in a variety of ways including with education and also, public-private cooperation.

Brevard County and the Space Coast region are very much a microcosm of what is going on throughout the country’s most fertile economic grounds.

• There is an expansion in population forecast to extend over the next decade or more.
• There is a public educational system that ranks among the best in the state of Florida.
• There is a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem poised to bloom into great opportunity for new, existing and relocating businesses throughout the region.

Regional Demographic Shift

It doesn’t take long to notice that Brevard County is in a state of growth. The dust and sound being kicked up in construction sites throughout the region is impossible to ignore. With 2.8 of the total state population, the region has seen a 4.5 percent increase in population since 2010 alone, and the population of Brevard County has doubled since 1980.

Median income is slightly lower than the national average at just over $48,000, but cost of housing
and cost of living are lower than many areas of the country, while quality of life in the region is higher
than most areas of the country.*

In short, the population is skilled, educated and living in a place with high scores on the quality of life scale, three very strong reasons employers consider the region to have an attractive workforce.

Slow, Steady Economic Improvement Out of the Great Recession

Since the widespread economic downturn that began in 2008, the national economy has been steadily, if not swiftly, improving. The unemployment rate in the state and region map almost directly to the federal unemployment rate at 5.5 percent and has been trending down steadily.

Most of the key sectors in the region are growing and, at least in part, thanks to the changing demographics and newfound entrepreneurial spirit, Brevard and the Space Coast are becoming attractive to new and important businesses.

KEY SECTORS
Trade, Transportation and Utilities
Healthcare
Professional Services
Leisure and Hospitality
Manufacturing

ADDITIONAL GROWTH AREAS
Healthcare in particular is tied to several specific requirements in the federal Affordable Care Act that links hospital and provider efficacy to community health as measured in a triennial assessment.

Blossoming Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

The most famous employer on the Space Coast has always been NASA and the Kennedy Space Center. Also a popular tourist attraction, NASA officially ended the Space Shuttle program on August 31, 2011 leaving many engineers and technical professionals to explore other options.

One of the most important developments from this change has been the growth of a robust technology-based entrepreneurial environment. More than a few of these scientific and technical minds turned their attention to their own efforts and began building something interesting.

Organizations like these have sprung up devoted to supporting tech and other start-ups and attracting venture capital.

EDUCATION

Talent comes into the regional pipeline several different ways. Some are established professionals or workers either happy in their positions or looking to move up or across into other organizations. Others are relocating to the area while some are relocating out of the area and in need of preparation for their next steps.

One of the most important investments and challenges when it comes to talent is new high school and college graduates entering the work force. The question, particularly when it comes to new college graduates, is how to keep them in the region after they graduate?

The Brevard/Central Florida region is truly a perfect storm of market synergies when it comes to education opportunities:

  • University of Central Florida
  • Florida Tech
  • Eastern Florida State College;
  • And more

All of these schools have education and preparation for a career as part of their mission, but an effort needs to be made to connect what a student is interested in, where their talents lie, and matching those skills and talents (aptitude) to a productive and rewarding career in the region. An answer needs to be found that incentivizes homegrown talent into thriving regional industry.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE COOPERATION

One successful recent effort in the area is a joint pilot program effort being managed by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast and CareerSource Brevard. These organizations are utilizing public funding in partnership with educational outlets like Eastern Florida State College and community organizations like the Pastor’s Community Alliance to help prepare dozens of workers in the region to be Certified Production Technicians.

The program helps educate and certify its graduates in manufacturing expertise so that they have a better opportunity to grow from a floor worker up into a better opportunity. What’s different about these graduates is that they are better educated, better skilled, and they’ve embarked on a rewarding career rather than just simply a job.

Students from new high school graduates to veterans to current manufacturing workers have progressed through the ten-week program so far, many of them with tuition covered in full or in part by their employers. It’s a way of formalizing a process and beginning to create a workforce with better than entry level skills that can attract and retain businesses in the area.

The program is currently focused on manufacturing jobs with an eye toward growing into other industries as it continues to prove the concept. Why begin with manufacturing? Because every manufacturing job, statistically speaking, creates 2.5 other jobs in the region. It’s exponential growth.

Economic Outlook and The Talent Pipeline

The confluence of factors influencing economic growth in Central Florida is beginning to reach a point of critical mass. Entrepreneurial efforts are creating a business ecosystem that’s leveraging technology and innovation, and those businesses are in need of the right, passionate, skilled employees to drive their growth.

Like supply and demand, business attraction and retention sit on opposite sides of a scale from a robust, skilled talent pool. They drive each other and fuel business growth and success.

Brevard County and the Space Coast region is blooming, and there are efforts in the works from education to policy to business and economic development to fuel that effort and create an even more rewarding place to live and work.