Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Retreat

Saturday, Aug. 20 – Amelia Island

Good afternoon! Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s great to be here in Amelia Island before all the excitement of another school year begins on Aug. 29. Jean and I have always enjoyed this area.

We’re looking forward to a great year ahead, but FSU actually announced some of its biggest news last spring.

In case you missed it, let me remind you by showing you a video of the announcement.

OK, so it was an April Fools joke.

Much as I love — OK, like — some of my Gator friends, you can rest assured that I’m not into orange and blue. And FSU will never move out of Tallahassee.

The histories of Florida State University and Tallahassee have been intertwined since 1851. Some of you may know that the founder of FSU was Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, Francis Eppes, who served as mayor of Tallahassee.

What you may not know is that Eppes had to lobby the members of the Florida Legislature — hard — to get them to locate the Seminary West of the Suwannee in our city. In fact, his first proposal failed. And no, I wasn’t the lobbyist!

But he had a vision for our community in which education would be at its center. So he pressed on until, finally, the Legislature designated Tallahassee as the location for the institition that would evolve into the modern-day Florida State University.

So you can see, FSU owes its very existence to our city leaders. Thus began a partnership that has only grown stronger over the years.

That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today: FSU and the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce as partners in moving the university and the community forward.

Together, with our friends at Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College, we have helped to build a capital city that surely has far surpassed Eppes’ vision.

Today, Tallahassee is often named one of the best college towns in the nation, one of the best medium-sized towns to live in, and one of the best places to retire.

There’s no doubt that our universities and community college are a big reason why.

Florida State University is at an exciting time in its history. We are working on a strategic plan that outlines our vision to deepen our commitment to continuous innovation.

We think our plan captures a spirit at FSU that has long distinguished it from other universities.

From its very founding, Florida State has had a record of going out on a limb, striving to always move higher and farther, never accepting the status quo. Generations of students, faculty and staff have shown this push to create, innovate and aspire to be bold.

From the Florida State College for Women students who established the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in Florida, to the wave of brilliant young scientists recruited at the end of the 1940s, from acquiring one of the first university supercomputers to establishing an entrepreneurial school that will be the first of its kind in the nation, Florida State has never been satisfied to rest on its laurels.

That brave and bold entrepreneurial spirit is what drove us to become one of the state’s two preeminent universities.

It’s what’s causing FSU to have an academic, social, cultural and economic impact that has ripple effects across the community, state and nation.

Let’s focus on FSU’s economic impact for a moment. With nearly 42,000 students and 6,000 faculty and staff members, I’m sure you know that we have a big economic impact on our state. But you might be surprised at just how significant that impact is. I know I was.

Are you ready for this?

10 BILLION DOLLARS. Every year.

That includes our operating budget, capital improvements, student spending and the difference between what our graduates earn over a lifetime versus what they would have made had they earned only a high school diploma.

What’s more, FSU is directly and indirectly responsible for the creation of more than 94,000 jobs.

Our economic impact makes sense when you consider our total operating budget is about $1.6 billion — about two times larger than the city’s budget. In fact, it’s larger than that of 72 foreign countries.

The largest portion of the budget goes toward payroll — about $835 million. Most of that goes directly into the local economy.

Our construction budget for this year alone is nearly $179 million. These projects include:

  • Our new Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Building on the corner of Tennessee Street and Woodward Avenue.
  • A new 912-bed residence hall complex with a 20,000-square-foot dining area at Jefferson Street and Woodward.
  • Upgrades and renovations to Doak Campbell Stadium.
  • And the Champions Club.

Along with our new construction, think about the utility bills we have to pay to keep our campus running. You think your electric bill was high? Last year, ours was 25 million dollars.

Then consider that our faculty members bring in more than $200 million a year in federal and state contracts and grants. That added up to more than $1 billion over the past five years — or put another way, $560,000 a day for 5 years, including weekends and holidays!

This is money that not only drives innovation and discovery but also directly impacts our local and state economies. That’s because these grants are often used to hire more lab assistants and researchers, who in turn spend money in our community.

And of course, our faculty transform their knowledge into products and services that can help people, our economy and society as a whole.

These commercialization efforts lead to real dollars that create jobs and circulate throughout our economy.

But it’s not just our faculty and researchers who are economic drivers in this community, it’s also our students.

They bring their excitement and enthusiasm to Tallahassee. And of course, they bring their wallets with them as well. They live, work, study and shop in our community.

Altogether, they spend about $876 million a year — that includes housing, food, gas, books, entertainment and school supplies.

That translates to about $44 million a year in sales taxes to Leon County — about 18 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue.

Our students contribute to our community in other ways, too. One of the things I am most proud of is the volunteer work they do. In 2015, 7,000 students donated about 370,000 service hours to the community! That’s equivalent to a $3 million investment.

And we can’t forget about our visitors. On any given day, prospective students, parents, eminent scholars, patrons of the arts and sports fans visit FSU.

Our football fans especially like to keep Tallahassee cash registers ringing. A typical out-of-town fan spends $459 a day and $1,193 per trip. That added up to a $94 million economic impact for Leon County after the seven home games of the 2014 season.

So you can see, FSU is fully invested in the community, and we are proud of our contributions to it. We recognize that what makes FSU such a great place to live, learn and work is the community where we are located.

It’s incumbent on all of us who call Tallahassee home to make it the very best it can be. To me, it’s pretty simple: What’s good for Tallahassee is good for FSU and vice versa.

That means we all have to invest in making our K-12 schools strong. Tackling our crime rate. Channeling our efforts into economic development.

Economic development, especially, will play a role in helping FSU to achieve its goals. In turn, FSU’s success in research funding, STEM education and achieving greater national prominence will spur new economic development in the region and the state.

The arts also have a role to play in economic growth. I know that some of you are taking a tour of Sam and Robbie Vickers’ incredible collection of Florida art this weekend.

They hope to find a permanent home for their collection in a Florida museum. Paula and Bill Smith hope the Vickers will choose FSU and Tallahassee to be that home.

It’s an exciting possibility, and a museum could be the cornerstone of the proposed new Arena District. But it’s a possibility that will take a lot of resources, and we are currently in conversations with several people — including some of you here in this room — about collaborating on this initiative.

This is the kind of innovative approach that can really benefit both FSU and Tallahassee, and I want to thank Paula and Bill for their extraordinary vision on this project and for all of the work that they have done over the years to benefit our community and FSU.

I also want to thank those of you who have helped FSU light the way to the future by contributing to our “Raise the Torch” fundraising campaign. Already we’ve raised $924 million toward our $1 billion goal. And, by the way, if anyone here happens to have $76 million we can end our campaign right now.

So, everything I see points to a bright future for Tallahassee and FSU.

It all starts with our students. I mentioned that classes start a week from Monday for our 42,000 students, including 6,200 new freshmen.

Let me tell you, our freshman class is amazing!

And I’m not just saying that because my granddaughter is an FSU freshman this year! I’m saying it because the average high school GPA of the freshmen we accepted this year was an incredible 4.1.

Our high-achieving students are the reason why our retention and graduation rates are among the best in the country.

These metrics will help us to achieve a ranking among the Top 25 public universities in the nation. It will take some time, but I am confident we will get there.

The strategic plan that I mentioned earlier will help us in this endeavor. It outlines the ways we will build on our culture of achievement to strengthen our most successful academic and research areas and lift others to higher prominence.

We want to ensure that we are nurturing an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship in all of our programs across campus.

And the plan reflects our commitment to a diverse and inclusive community. This really is one of my top priorities. That’s because having a multicultural student body, faculty and staff enriches the academic environment for everyone.

We are placing a greater focus on diversity when recruiting and hiring new faculty. And, in the past year, we have enacted several strategies to increase the diversity of the undergraduate student body.

I’m pleased to tell you that we think this year’s freshman class is the most diverse in our history. And we have received several national awards in recent months for our efforts in this area, but we know we have more work to do.

We also want to expand our efforts to help students be successful from the moment they arrive on campus until long after they walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

After all, the true measure of a positive college experience is whether our students can achieve personal and professional success after they leave. Preparing our students for 21st century careers is part of that.

The Chamber is helping us by partnering with the Career Center and hosting programs like the Tally Job Hop to connect students with employers from some of North Florida’s top businesses.

That’s important because we know that many students come to FSU and fall in love with Tallahassee and never want to leave.

In fact, of our 326,000 living alumni, nearly 40,000 of them live in Leon County. So we want to make sure we are preparing our s

tudents with the skills they need to help your businesses advance.

Together, we are establishing a talent pipeline that will benefit the state, and especially Leon County.

Florida State University is already excellent. But we think if we focus our attention on our strategic goals, Florida State will be even stronger five years from now.

Already, five different ranking entities count us among the Top 50 public universities in the country. And we recently jumped 6 places in the Forbes ranking in just one year to Number 44.

That kind of upward movement tells me that people at the national level are paying attention to our success. As an academic powerhouse, FSU’s influence will only grow.

And we are doing it in partnership with you. Whether it is economic growth or workforce development, we are excited about opportunities to work with city and county leaders and the business community. We want to hear your ideas and would be happy to lend our brainpower and resources to efforts that will move Tallahassee forward.

We are happy to do this in appreciation for your continued support as Florida State University reaches even higher.

Thank you.