The Partnership recently sat down with him to discuss the philosophy behind the program, why business-minded leaders should apply to PLI and how it prepares them for public leadership as a prospective elected or appointed leader.


Public policy does not occur in a vacuum. It requires leaders to enact it. And not just any leaders—successful public policy requires leaders who understand its impact on both communities and businesses. The Orlando region benefits from political leaders who understand the impact of public policy on the business community. But maintaining a business-friendly political environment requires a deep talent pool of business-minded candidates who are prepared to enter public leadership and enact public policy that furthers economic prosperity. The Central Florida Political Leadership Institute (PLI) was created to fuel that talent pipeline. 

PLI consultant Mark R. Mills, president of Mills Strategic Communications, Inc., knows what it takes for leaders to run a successful campaign for elected office, land an appointment to an influential government board or commission and transition from business leader to public leader. The Partnership recently sat down with him to discuss the philosophy behind the program, why business-minded leaders should apply to PLI and how it prepares them for public leadership as a prospective elected or appointed leader.

What is the Central Florida Political Leadership Institute (PLI)?  

The Central Florida Political Leadership Institute (PLI) is a program of the Orlando Economic Partnership for business-minded professionals who want to explore whether public leadership may be right for them in either a short or long-term horizon. In the process, they’ll discover strategies for transitioning into the public arena and preparing to succeed, lead and make a difference as either a future elected official or appointee to a government board or commission where they can use their experience, skills and talent to address public issues. The program is non-partisan and provides a full scholarship to participants after a competitive application and selection process.  

What difference has PLI made for Central Florida?

PLI is one of most unique and successful public leadership programs of its kind anywhere in the nation. Since its inception in 2008, 22 leaders have emerged to serve in elected office as state legislators, mayors, city council members and county officials. Other graduates are contributing through service on government boards and commissions or impacting public policy and politics.

We’ve had business leaders enter the program uncertain or even apprehensive about the political process only to emerge educated, encouraged and energized to make a difference. We’re excited by the prospect that there are leaders throughout the region who want to apply for the 2020 class and build on this rich legacy of success.

Why is there a need for business-minded public leaders? 

A pro-business climate of economic innovation, ingenuity and prosperity requires pro-business public leaders who are willing to enact pro-business public policies. Central Florida has had a rich legacy of business-minded public leaders but there’s no guarantee that it will always remain this way. That’s why the program is intentional about “building the bench” today of tomorrow’s public leaders who understand business issues because they’ve lived business issues.

In the end, our objective is to promote a regional climate of economic opportunity and prosperity. PLI is simply the means to get there.

What attributes do successful program participants possess?  

We want proven leaders who are willing to explore how their business, management and professional experience, skills and talents could apply to solving public issues that are important to the business community. We also welcome non-profit executives who have to confront some of the same issues that corporate business leaders must face. 

What is the curriculum like throughout the program? 

The curriculum is engagement-based and practical. Everything we do is intended for class members to emerge encouraged and educated with a strategic plan for clearing the personal, professional and political obstacles for engaging in the process and stepping to the starting line prepared and positioned to succeed and lead. 

We use an interactive-learning format of role-playing, small group exercises and simulated scenarios that allow leaders to more fully incorporate strategies that include building a support network, boosting their credibility, assembling the right team, educating themselves on important issues and networking with influential leaders.

Our team of experts is also eager to offer their insights on public leadership, politics and public policy. Graduates who have gone on to serve in elected and appointed office will join us to share their first-hand experiences that have taken them from PLI participant to successful public leader.

Why should leaders participate in the program? 

We don’t require a commitment to run for office or apply for an appointment. We merely ask that class members consider whether public leadership may be right for them at some point in their future and explore opportunities to prepare for engagement. 

Successful public leaders have understood that they didn’t have the luxury of choosing their opportunity, their opportunity chose them and they were already prepared to win. When that moment arrives for our PLI members, often with little or no advance notice, we want them to be ready to step to the starting line as frontrunners who know how to win before they begin.