By Kevin Mims, The Business of Climate Change
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Charley Caulkins, a partner with the Fisher Phillips law firm and chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
Tell us a little bit about the Florida Chamber of Commerce and what it does for Florida businesses.
The Florida Chamber is a group of business people, mainly businesses, that have a vital interest in the future of Florida, protecting the future of Florida, and helping create the kind of environment we need to have continue our state’s progress. The livelihoods of business people small, medium, and big are really important to us and we have engaged with the Legislature all the time to make our viewpoint heard and have input on the direction of the state.
In general, how is Florida’s economy looking right now, and how will things like sea-level rise and changing weather patterns affect the economy in the future?
The Florida economy is stronger than I think we all expected it to be with the coronavirus situation that we’re all faced with. We have a full-time economist at the Florida Chamber and if people are interested, go on our website because he’s got tons of data. It basically shows that we’re on line to get back to where we were pre-COVID, so I think it’s something to be pleased about. Sea-level rise is a big challenge in all sorts of ways to Floridians and it’s an important part of what the Florida Chamber has been looking at as we plan for the next 10 years.
How are businesses responding to climate change here in Florida and what kind of questions or concerns are you getting from Florida business owners?
The good news is that we have moved past, in my opinion, the political debates of who caused it. We’re now focused on the solution rather than the cause. It’s coming, we have it, so what are we going to do as a state to continue the kind of state we all want to live in?
We’ve got low elevations in Florida, we have communities built on swamp land. So, you know we’ve got a lot of challenges in Florida, but the good news, I think, for Floridians, is that the business community and our elected officials and all other groups in Florida are really now focusing on what to do about it and I think that’s fantastic.
What do we do about it? What are you telling business people who ask that question?
We’re saying that we’ve all got to work together to focus on a number of things. One is flood mitigation. That’s the big one. And we’ve got to enhance our natural barriers that we have in the state. We’ve got to look at the man-made barriers and what we need to do to erect more of those or raise them.
And we’ve got to be careful about our future development plans. The state legislative leaders and Governor DeSantis particularly is very involved in this and has a chief resiliency officer, which is a first-time thing for Florida. There are economic opportunities for business people in this solution part of this—not just sea-wall building companies but all engineering, and so there’s going to be actual, real opportunities for smart business people to see these opportunities and create a business or take their business and go in ways that maybe they never imagined before.
And so my message to business people is: plan on good things. And for those that are not in Florida: business people, come down to our state, because we’ve got a great environment and yes, we have challenges, but on this sea-level rise challenge, we’re on it. And I think the attitude that I see is that we want to be the world leader.
What can the Florida Legislature do to help businesses address these issues?
I’m very confident with our leadership. They’ve set the stage to be engaged on the sea-level rise problem. I’m confident that our state government will come up with resources to help the local communities do it in a prudent way to say, “hey, we’re here to help but you’ve got come up with some real plans here,” and it’s thoughtful and it’s something that will work and it’s not just throwing money at the problem.
I do think we can probably expect from the new administration that will be coming on board that there’ll be opportunities for more funding from the federal government on this issue.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.”
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state. It is supported by a grant from the Environmental Defense Fund.