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Lecture Series, Professorship Honor Florida Business Leader

The College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University is pleased to announce that, thanks to an action by the state legislature to honor one of Florida’s most successful business leaders, the Department of Economics is sponsoring a new lecture series that will bring prominent scholars and economists to campus for talks on key economic issues. The first lecture features University of Alabama Professor Paul Pecorino, who will speak on “Litigation with Judgment-Proof Defendants.” The lecture takes place in the DeVoe Moore Center, 150 Bellamy, on Friday, October 3, 2014, at 3:30 p.m.

In June 2014, Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) introduced a measure to establish the L. Charles Hilton, Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Economic Prosperity. The initiative will bring $600,000 in recurring annual funding into the department to hire a nationally renowned academic leader who will conduct research on markets and the institutions that play an important role in determining economic prosperity and individual opportunity. The Hilton Professor will also coordinate a national symposium to discuss and share best practices among the states in achieving these goals.

As a way to inaugurate the initiative and enhance the benefits it will bring to students and faculty, the department has decided to create and host a new series, the Charles Hilton Distinguished Lectureship in the Economics of Markets and Institutions, with plans to invite seven to ten lecturers over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year.

“While we are in the process of recruiting an ideal candidate to hold the Hilton Professorship, we decided to add the lectureship as a way of immediately honoring Mr. Hilton and furthering the ideas and values he has represented so strongly for many years,” noted Mark Isaac, chair of the Economics Department. “We’re so grateful for this legislative initiative enabling us to bring such valuable insights and perspectives to our faculty and students.”

For more than half a century, Charles Hilton has been one of Florida’s most innovative and effective entrepreneurs. After earning his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida and serving in the U.S. Air Force, he became a celebrated trial attorney and law partner of former Senate President Dempsey Barron (D-Panama City). Beginning in the 1950s, he began building a business empire of banks, investment firms, hotels and restaurants, construction companies, golf courses and a cable television system all headquartered in Bay County, Florida.

Mr. Hilton and his wife, Lela, established the Hilton Family Foundation to promote education and health care research worldwide. He is the immediate past chairman of the board of the James Madison Institute, a Florida-based research and educational organization promoting limited government solutions to economic issues. Mr. Hilton has served in the leadership of dozens of national, state, and local charitable and civic associations.

In a joint statement, Speaker Weatherford and President Gaetz said, “Charlie Hilton is the personification of rugged American individualism. He lifted himself up with phenomenal work and skill. His success is not inherited; every bit of it is earned. His rock-solid faith in America, his commitment to freedom in the marketplace and in the public square, and his unconquerable spirit can inspire and teach generations of young Floridians through this distinguished professorship and academic program.”

The two legislators are among many who speak so admiringly of Hilton. Former Speaker of the Florida House Allan Bense, current Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Florida State University, was still a child when he met the Panama City businessman. After Bense’s parents died, Hilton became Bense’s mentor. Eventually they became business partners. Bense told the Panama City News Herald that when he became speaker from 2004 to 2006, Hilton purposefully cut off close contact with him. Bense said this was in part because of Hilton’s life-long belief that the only thing he wanted from government is less of it.

“He could have made a pile of money just from lobbying me,” Bense told the paper. “The fact that he didn’t, that shows you what type of guy he is.”

According to Garnett S. Stokes, Florida State’s interim president, the initiative will strengthen the department in an area of scholarship targeted for growth by the faculty and impact the university’s overall goal of advancing to the top 25 public universities in the nation.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to grow our tenured faculty ranks and at the same time contribute to important public policy research issues,” Stokes said.