Putnam's Positive Priorities

Guest Correspondence

BY CHRISTINE ROBINSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JAN 21, 2017

At the Argus Foundation’s annual meeting last week, keynote speaker Adam Putnam, Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, asked a sold-out crowd of more than 200: “How much would someone have to pay you to move to Flint, Michigan?” Commissioner Putnam referred to the water quality in the Midwestern city. His answer from the crowd resulted in chuckles as he remarked: "You would say, you couldn't pay me enough,” he answered for them. Maintaining the state's water quality and making it a top priority was one of the many topics the elected official, who is rumored to be announcing a gubernatorial run soon, addressed in a room full of Sarasota’s business leaders.

Water quality and sustainable seafood production is a topic the Argus Foundation scratched the surface on during a Meet the Minds luncheon last year, co-hosted with the Science and Environment Council. Commissioner Putnam pointed out that 90 percent of the seafood we consume in Florida is imported—a statistic we also heard echoed at last year's luncheon. It’s refreshing to see that our state leaders are tuned into issues surrounding some our most valuable resources and one so close to home in Sarasota. We should be looking at our water quality and sustainable ways to harvest our local marine resources.

We live in a community that thrives from our cultural and environmental assets, and discussions that link our collective prosperity together, are crucial for future collaboration and our region’s continued success.

As the Argus Foundation kicked off the New Year with the first of many interesting and thought-provoking speakers planned for 2017, I listened with pride as Commissioner Putnam implored our business community to keep up its important work of engaging in important discussions, solving problems and moving forward to ensure positive growth for our region. 

Commissioner Putnam also talked about the many other vital issues facing our community—issues that the Argus Foundation intends to embrace this year, as we work together to find collaborative solutions. These include issues like education and workforce development—two of the greatest potential ways, he said, to help Florida compete for new jobs and new industries. He struck a chord with parents and educators in the crowd when he mentioned putting more state money into the classrooms, rather than into tests, joking that his child had to endure a final exam in P.E. class last year. 

He also suggested that it’s imperative that we harness innovative S.T.E.M.-oriented talent and develop a non-college bound workforce to help position Florida positively in the future. Here in Sarasota, we are already taking the lead in this area, and we should strive for even more. The new Suncoast Technical College campus in North Port will certainly be an asset to be emulated around the state. The $23-million project broke ground late last year and will offer a variety of programs for students and adults—from culinary arts to carpentry. It will also be paired with a conference center and public library. Additionally, the selection of former Suncoast Technical College Executive Director Todd Bowden to Sarasota County School Superintendent promises to further this collaboration and development of a strong, talented workforce while helping local businesses attract and retain young talent. Education and workforce development are the greatest gaps we need to close to ensure a bright future, Commissioner Putnam said. And it needs to be a priority.

Also during the event, the Argus Foundation welcomed its new 2017 officers. I would like to extend a huge thank you to Rod Hershberger with PGT Innovations for his tireless dedication to the Argus Foundation during his time as the past president. Jeff Charlotte, president of J.E. Charlotte Construction Corp., has big shoes to fill as he assumes the helm. Jeff is well respected by his peers in the community, a dedicated community advocate and philanthropist, and I look forward to what 2017 has in store. 

This year, as we get ready to tackle the important issues, like the ones mentioned above, we will continue to focus on fostering important community conversations. We will also collaborate with community partners and work to be a part of solutions to improve the local community. Look for more events that will continue to educate the community on matters affecting us locally, statewide and nationally, and for the Argus Foundation to take center stage with ideas about tackling those matters together. 

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation

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