With the ambiguous goal to cut childhood poverty in Florida in half within ten years, the Florida Chamber of Commerce sent its members out from its Prosperity and Economic Opportunity Solution Summit in Sarasota with a challenge — to reach out to the poverty-stricken zip codes or counties where they do business and take action to help.
Currently there are 870,505 children (or about 21 percent) living in poverty in Florida’s 983 zip codes. Childhood poverty is concentrated, with half of those children living in just 150 zip codes.
Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson challenged members to participate in the Chamber’s Florida Prosperity Initiative, “Can we count on you to put together a collective impact model in each county or zip code?”
The initiative was born out of the idea that “the zip code a person is born into should not dictate the future of their lives.”
A host of Chamber members and supporters provided summit attendees with relevant statistical information and actions they have taken to date to further the Prosperity Initiative. Wilson said he hopes members attending this year will return to this summit next year as speakers, sharing the actions they took and the success they’ve had.
As an example of how one company and its leader can make a significant impact, Wilson recognized the efforts Karen Moore, founder and CEO of Moore, one of the top marketing and communications companies in the country. Moore did not speak at this year’s conference but wrote about the program on her corporate website. Moore partnered with Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, and donated 10,000 meals to support children and families in need throughout the Feeding America network of food banks across the country.
Moore and her husband, Richard, took it a step further and personally matched her company’s national donation on a local level. Through a partnership with Second Harvest of The Big Bend, they delivered approximately 15,000 meals to children in need throughout Tallahassee, concentrating efforts within the 32304 zip code — which has the highest levels of childhood poverty (48.6 percent) in Florida and is ranked among the lowest income zip codes in the nation.
Moore wrote, “…the launch of the new ‘Summertime Food on the Move’ program, a mobile food-truck style distribution system, was one of my proudest moments.”
Beyond the obvious — that it’s a good, decent, humane thing to do — why should Florida businesses follow Moore’s lead and become involved in the Chamber’s initiative?
One of the primary concerns of a business considering relocation or starting up in a particular location is whether or not there is a skilled workforce to draw upon. By bringing people out of poverty and providing the training and incentives to lift them out, businesses are helping develop the workforce they’ll need in the future. By starting with the children — providing food, safety, a good education, etc. — a stronger foundation is laid for a person to use to successfully climb out of poverty.
It also can have a dramatic impact on the economy of the state.
The Florida Chambers’ Chief Economist Jerry Parris told the summit attendees, “Government can make money getting people out of poverty.”
He reported that the economic impact of lifting 300,000 people out of poverty, over five years is an increase in state tax revenue of $2 to $2.5 billion dollars and a savings of $900 million to $1.6 billion in program costs.
He said, “I have long contended, the best way to produce tax revenue is not to raise tax rates, but to create jobs, to get these people into the workforce. Certainly, there is a great opportunity for Florida.”
The Chamber’s Prosperity Initiative developed the following: zip code level data research that helps local communities identify which zip codes are most in need of help and how to best allocate resources; a statewide advisory board made up of business leaders who acknowledge and are committed to creating equality of opportunity for all Floridians; a framework to create countywide prosperity efforts and zip code champions in every community in Florida; an annual summit that brings together the business community to learn more about the root causes of poverty and share solutions; and, a resource center of “Promising Practices” from which county and zip code champions can gain insight. It also provides advocacy at the local, state, and national level.
Business members interested in learning more about the Chamber’s Prosperity Initiative can click here.