Florida Ever After
When you move to a state with a fairy tale castle at its center, a certain amount of magical thinking comes with the territory. Fresh out of journalism school in Arizona, I came to Florida because I wanted to be a storyteller, and no place had — and still has — better stories to be told.
I had no illusions about what I was getting into. The breathtaking natural beauty of Florida, the vibrant blend of people and cultures, and the seemingly endless possibilities can be offset by deeply rooted challenges and the staggeringly destructive power of wind and water. If you want drama, it’s here in abundance.
Florida stories always have the possibility of a plot twist, even my own — such as finding myself in a role I never would have imagined at Florida Trend, a magazine I have loved almost as long as I have been a Floridian.
Florida Trend first captured my attention with the January 1993 cover, and anyone working in government or the media in Tallahassee at the time will know the exact image: frequent opponents Gov. Lawton Chiles and top business lobbyist Jon Shebel lying side-by-side in the proverbial political bed. No one could believe the self-proclaimed “he-coon” of Florida politics or the combative ex-Marine turned-business stalwart had agreed to that pose for a story on the Legislature’s attempt at health care reform. Florida Trend had that kind of touch.
Over career stops as a reporter and editorial writer at the Tampa Tribune, as the Associated Press correspondent in Tampa, and as a member of the University of South Florida’s communications team, I’ve found Florida Trend’s thoughtful, comprehensive coverage the best way to get the full picture of this giant kaleidoscope of a state. It still is.
In many ways, Florida is a much better place than it was decades ago, but its story is more complex than ever. It’s astounding how many crises I covered as a young journalist still persist: Health care access and equity; tort and insurance reform; and our inability to balance the demands of a surging population against the fragility of the environment, to name a few. Our state leaders don’t have a shortage of resources, just collectively short attention spans when it comes to resolving some of Florida’s most difficult problems.
I place great hope in Florida’s innovators and entrepreneurs eager to take on these challenges. I joined USF in the darkest days of the 2008 global financial collapse, exiting the pervasive gloom of the Great Recession for the sunny optimism that manifests itself whenever knowledgeable, idealistic and technologically savvy people gather in one spot. Florida’s economy is diversifying — a hedge against the booms and busts of old — and is well positioned to benefit in a global economy driven by new ideas.
Increasingly, I hear Florida’s business leaders express a widening definition of “business friendly” to include investing in creating healthy, inclusive communities with ladders of opportunity. They know you can’t sustain a rapidly rising economy — currently the equivalent of the 15th largest in the world — on a frayed social fabric and amid a deteriorating natural environment. Quality of life matters; moving vans can leave just as easily as they arrived.
I can’t wait to explore these and other issues from this new vantage point. I’m incredibly fortunate to be welcomed into this tight-knit team led by Publisher David Denor, a group whose creativity and commitment to excellence knows no bounds. As a Florida Trend fan, I find it very cool to now share a wall with Art Director Gary Bernloehr, the mastermind of the iconic political bedfellows cover that won me over as a loyal reader. To a person, the only thing bigger than my new co-workers’ talents and professionalism is the size of their hearts.
Mark Howard, Florida Trend’s editor for the past 25 years and the instigator of the aforementioned plot twist, is a tough act to follow. I first met Mark in 2005, a time when I was a working mom juggling an unpredictable wire service job and a toddler — barely keeping it together most days and some days not at all. As fate would have it, we didn’t have another conversation for the next 16 years.
Then last summer, Mark invited me to lunch and shared his retirement plans, wanting to know what I’d been up to. That long overdue reconnection set in motion the process that led to this extraordinary opportunity. I’ll tell this story the rest of my days for two reasons: First, it’s just one of many examples of what a rare and wonderful person Mark is; his character and integrity are reflected in the pages of this magazine, which he shaped for more than a third of its existence. Second, every working parent needs to know that even on those days you think you’re unraveling, there are people who see how capable you are — whether you believe it yourself or not.
After all, it’s Florida — a place where unexpected things happen and where you can write your own story with some hard work, a little luck and good people beside you. I’m thrilled to start this new chapter having learned a few things along the way.
It turns out the fairy tale castle in the center of the state is somewhat deceiving. There are no glass slippers here, just some very big shoes to fill.