This morning, approximately 2.2 million Florida small businesses unlocked their doors believing that if they could put their talents to work they could make a difference for their families, and in the lives of their employees and communities.
We are fortunate that many talented business leaders have chosen Florida as their home base. We have heard a lot about the need for the diversification of our economy, which is critical to our long-term prosperity. However, it is equally vital that the heart of our economic lifeblood, our small businesses, is not forgotten.
Small businesses have an enormous impact on the health of Florida's economy, contributing $566 billion or 75 percent of our state's GDP and employing four out of five Floridians. Florida is a small business state and our small business community is a required component for our continued economic success.
While government does not create jobs, government can help support business development, promote innovation and growth, and reduce red tape.
Although we are seeing positive trends in business and employment growth, I know we can do more to assist small businesses already established in our state.
That is why I partnered with the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship at the College of Business at Florida State University to host the 2012 Small Business Leadership Forum, which will be held in Tampa on Sept. 6-7.
The forum aims to connect business owners with the right tools and information to help them succeed. But more importantly, the forum will serve as an opportunity for us to hear from small businesses on what they see as obstacles to growth and prosperity in our state.
The forum will also bring social media for small business development to the forefront. Over the past few years, the growing popularity of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+ and LinkedIn, have changed the way entrepreneurs do business. Social media has reinvented word-of-mouth and has opened the doors for businesses to connect and engage with their customers in a way that was not as easy or even possible before.
Our keynote speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk, will speak to social media's influence and its return on investment for businesses. Mr. Vaynerchuk's business success and passion for digital integration will bring a unique perspective to the forum and provide attendees insight on how to grow their business using social media.
In addition to our dynamic keynote speaker, the forum will cover key topics and panel discussions including short- and long-term forecasts and trends of Florida's economy; ideas for attracting and creating an environment for investment, including improving access to capital; and ways to leverage resources and programs available through our public universities and small business development centers.
I am a firm believer that it is not enough to just provide information to our small business community. If we are to make a real difference, we must also listen to our business owners to learn how we can make the business climate better.
With this first-hand knowledge, we can bring policy recommendations back to Tallahassee and facilitate policy that will help nurture an environment for stronger economic growth.
To find out more information about the forum, including a list of panelists and how to register, visit www.flsmallbusinessforum.com.
Jeff Atwater, Florida's chief financial officer, oversees the state's department of financial services.