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Florida leaders hope to keep graduates in Sunshine State

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The state of Florida has a request for graduates this commencement season: Stay in Florida.

The push to keep Florida graduates in the Sunshine State was a constant theme during the 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. The two-day summit wrapped up Thursday with a series of panels focused on keeping graduates in Florida.

“When I graduated from University of Florida, so many of my classmates left Florida. They went to Austin, they went to Boston, they went to Charlotte, they went to Atlanta,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “We can reverse that flow, and we must reverse that flow.”

Experts said there were plenty of ways to do that, including boosting partnerships with colleges and universities, creating more internships, and maintaining a statewide clearinghouse to connect new graduates with prospective employers.

“We want to make sure all the employers here are really connected to the graduates, because then you can keep them in the state and they can be productive citizens, and we can keep our economy growing,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Maggie Laureano, the vice president for human resources at Embraer Aircraft Holdings, said her firm partners with local colleges and universities. The company also recently created a partnership with a high school in Brevard County so it can begin working with younger students.

Laureano said the company is hoping to hire 200 engineers in the next year and a half, which could mean more new jobs for recent graduates.

John Sprouls, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Universal Parks and Resorts, said Universal Orlando regularly hires interns from Florida’s colleges and universities. And a significant number of those, he said, end up with a full-time job after college.

And those jobs aren’t just ones working in the parks concession stands or selling tickets. The company, he said, covers everything from data analytics and hospitality to the entertainment business.

“Our team members are the best in the business,” he said.

Sprouls, who is on the University of Central Florida’s board of trustees, said the company has several partnerships with colleges and universities. It has also created a partnership with Orange County Public Schools to help students focus on career readiness.

The two-day summit featured dozens of speakers, and aimed to connect the business community with higher education officials. Gov. Rick Scott also used the event to challenge state colleges and universities to do whatever they can to help students graduate in four years.

The Sunshine State shouldn’t be reserved for successful retirees, said Putnam.

“Florida is, was, and will continue to be a prize innovators reward themselves with at the end of the successful career. But if we really want to draw that creative class four decades sooner than we’re getting them today, it begins with higher education,” he commented.

“As a farmer, I would say that is our seed corn. Our K-12 teachers are better if higher ed is outstanding. Our individual universities are better if the system is better. Communities and employers have greater options to find talent within the state rather than looking across state lines if our higher education system is better. It is the key to the cluster of benefits [and] amenities people expect in a 21st-century economy.”

Putnam continued: “And Florida, in addition to being the prize for a life well lived someplace else at the end of a successful career, can be the magnet to steal talent from states and nations all over this globe who are attracted to the focus of this governor, of this Legislature and of this committed group individuals are bringing to higher education in the Sunshine State.”

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