From our beaches to our farms, our national parks to our amusement parks, the Sunshine State has it all. While many think of Florida as a vacation destination, some of the highest quality people call Florida home.
We’ve displayed that our state is for those who carry with them a kind heart and a willingness to work. Florida has always exemplified the American dream.
Fifty-four years ago, I picked up my life in the Northeast to take a chance on a warm state in the South, where the sun shined more, and tomatoes grew better. I quickly learned that Florida was not only for those who were done working but also for those who are hardworking.
Like tourists, agriculture is a staple in Florida. On a national scale, Florida accounts for 56 percent of the U.S. citrus production, and is ranked second in value of vegetable production. Having been dubbed “Mr. Tomato,” I couldn’t imagine having my business anywhere else. On the international stage, we are ranked seventh in the U.S. for agricultural exports and ship our products to more than 175 countries. That’s something to hang your hat on.
But we did not get to where we are alone. Much of this national and international standing is because of thousands of people who, like me, took a chance on a new home and a better life. Florida’s agriculture leaders and job creators know our vibrant economy is built on the entrepreneurship, optimism, and innovative spirit of hardworking immigrants. Farmers want to play by the rules, but simply don’t have access to a legal workforce. Our jobs pay decent competitive wages, but native-born Americans have long demonstrated their unwillingness to do these “dirty jobs.” Anti-immigrant policies like HB 9 and SB 308 will no doubt drive away the agriculture’s labor force and leave Florida farmers without options.
The hostile approach that HB 9 and SB 308 take has already proven detrimental to other states’ economies. Arizona, Georgia, and Texas have lost over $141 million in tourism revenue, $140 million in agricultural production, and their policies will cost almost a million people their jobs within the next decade. This isn’t bold leadership; these are misguided and damaging policies that only distract us from the real issues currently facing our state. It would be a shame if Florida followed suit.
Anti-immigrant legislation in any form is a threat to Florida’s warm and welcoming reputation and will deliver negative-unintended consequences for our new neighbors. It’s a threat to our ability to welcome tourists and recruit new workers. And ultimately, it compromises the Florida we know and love.
It’s time to find common ground and address our state’s challenges in a way that promotes pro-business, pro-immigrant, and pro-public safety policies. We need our elected leaders in Tallahassee to let us grow instead of blocking out the light that helps us thrive.
PAUL DIMARE, HOMESTEAD
Editor’s note: Paul DiMare is president of DiMare Distribution and board member of the IMPAC Fund.
On a national scale, Florida accounts for 56 percent of the U.S. citrus production, and is ranked second in value of vegetable production.