Florida No. 2 in Eyes of CEOs; Business Leaders Say More Work Is Needed

By: Jim Turner | Posted: May 3, 2012 3:55 AM
Will Weatherford and Tom Feeney

State Rep. Will Weatherford and Tom Feeney

In the eyes of those who run companies, Florida is now the No. 2 best state in which to do business.

For business advocates and lobbyists in the Sunshine State, moving into second place on Chief Executive magazine’s survey of CEOs' "Best and Worst States in which to do Business" is a compliment to the efforts of Gov. Rick Scott and state legislative leadership.

But business backers say the mission is incomplete.

State leaders, they say, still need to tackle areas such as tort and insurance reform, further reduction to the corporate income tax, unemployment, foreclosures and warding off federal efforts to undermine Florida’s status as a “right to work” state.

Edie Ousley

Edie Ousley

“Creating a competitive business climate that embraces the spirit of free enterprise is essential to helping return Florida to the No. 1 job creator in the nation,” Edie Ousley, Florida Chamber of Commerce vice president of public affairs, responded in an email.

“While Florida is moving in the right direction, we must reduce Florida’s reputation as a haven for plaintiff trial lawyers and bad-faith insurance lawsuits that have given Florida a bad legal-climate reputation, and we must close the job-killing online sales tax loophole like Texas just did and level the playing field for Florida’s bricks-and-mortar businesses.”

Tom Feeney, Associated Industries of Florida president and CEO, said the state has further to go in reforming personal injury protection auto insurance, even after this year’s successful legislation, and that the tort system remains “too attractive for trial lawyers to go after deep pockets.”

The state also has to continue to block federal efforts to usurp Florida’s status as a “right to work state.”

“The Obama administration is trying to undermine the advantages of open labor practices,” Feeney said. “Every day the National Labor Relations Board and Obama are trying to decrease advantages to business. The consequence there is that if Obama is successful, we will not lose jobs to Georgia and Texas, but all 50 states will lose jobs to Latin America and elsewhere.”

Texas retained for the eighth consecutive year its hold on the top spot among CEOs interviewed by the magazine, with former No. 2 North Carolina dropping into third, the spot held a year ago by Florida.

House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said the state’s “low tax burden, talented work force and beautiful weather have all factored” into the ranking.

“Our goal is to make Florida the No. 1 state for business and we will continue to find ways to incentivize the creation of jobs while building a robust economy."

Gray Swoope

Gray Swoope

Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope said word of the changes is getting out.

“Everywhere we go people are taking notice of the work and the progress that we’re making on a business-climate standpoint in the state of Florida,” Swoope said. “It is significant, people will see that and recognize, ‘hey something is going on and I need to be a part of that.’”

The magazine -- basing its findings on the perceptions of 650 CEOs regarding taxes and regulation, work force quality and living environment -- has moved Florida up eight places since 2008.

A year ago, when Florida moved from sixth place to third, Gov. Rick Scott playfully wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry that "Florida will not settle for third place."

“Since Scott took office, his administration has enacted business tax and regulatory reforms that have contributed to the creation of more than 140,000 private-sector jobs and an unemployment drop of 2.1 percentage points last year — one of the biggest decreases in the nation,” wrote J.P. Donlon, the author of the Chief Executive report.

“It is perhaps no coincidence that Texas and Florida have the highest net migration of people to their states from 2001 to 2009. (By contrast, New York and California lost over 1.6 million and 1.5 million in net migration out of the states, respectively, over the same period.)”

The magazine listed this as the positive development trend for Florida: “New tax relief -- and boosterish Governor Scott -- excite owner and executive.”

Quotes from unnamed CEOs were mostly positive, stressing the weather and lack of a state income tax.

“The Carolinas, Florida, and Texas have become very business-friendly, with excellent work forces, high quality of life, and moderate costs of living.”

Yet, not everyone was sold.

Other unattributed CEO quotes:

  • “Florida is not that banker-friendly. The foreclosure process takes several years on average and this is holding their recovery back.”
  • “Florida has a bad business environment for insurance companies with tough regulations.”
  • “Florida is now the worst state for third-party bad faith. Trial bar is running the state. Citizens Insurance is a major problem that could bankrupt the state if a major disaster hits Florida.”

A report released Tuesday from the state Office of Economic Demographic Research indicated much work is also ahead for legislators and economic development leaders.

According to the report, the state gross domestic product (GDP) ranked us 40th in the nation in real growth, with a gain of 1.4 percent.

Meanwhile, per capita personal income grew 3.5 percent in 2011 over 2010, ranking the state 45th in the country with respect to state growth. The national average was 4.3 percent.

And about half of all residential loans in Florida are for homes that are underwater.

Feeney said the CEO message to Florida is to “redouble our efforts.”  

And that if Florida surpasses Texas, there would continue to be work to do, including raising education standards and reducing unemployment, Feeney said.

“Florida is turning out insufficient high-quality graduates in high-tech skills to meet future demands,” Feeney said.  

“There are lots of areas for improvement. The fact that we’re doing better than New York or California is not sufficient. New York and California policymakers are doing everything they can to crush entrepreneurial spirit.”

The bottom five in the view of the CEOs, in order from 46 to 50, are the heavily unionized states of Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and California.

Other than Massachusetts replacing New Jersey, now No. 45, the bottom didn’t change.

“California’s enduring place of perpetual decline continues in this year’s ranking,” Donlon wrote. “Once the most attractive business environment, the Golden State appears to slip deeper into the ninth circle of business hell. The economy, which used to outperform the rest of the country, now substantially underperforms. And its status as the most ruinously contentious place to operate remains undisturbed in eight years.”

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (7)

5:16PM MAY 3RD 2012
Let me think for just a bit, CEO's and Business corporate tax coming down for them to make FLORIDA a better place for them come. What about us
why has everthing to do with our Auto's (DMV) gone up 100% and the pass two (2) years ? We are talking tags , title's, boats
Don Raggin
11:12AM MAY 3RD 2012
People who actually build playing fields do not make them level. If they did, water would not drain and the field would become a swamp. Just trying to help with a trite and over used analogy.
Don Raggin
11:09AM MAY 3RD 2012
People who actually build playing fields do not make them level. If they did, water would not drain and the field would become a swamp. Just trying to help with a trite and over used analogy.
Robert Lloyd
9:14AM MAY 3RD 2012
>>we must reduce Florida’s reputation as a haven for plaintiff trial lawyers<<

Shoot the lawyers. Next.

The above joking (mostly) aside, Rick Scott is one of the most riveting politicians in the modern world. I wonder if we are seeing the makings of the future president of the USA.
10:00AM MAY 3RD 2012
Of course, any first term Governor with a 54% disapproval rating and multiple unconstitutional findings about his actions makes for a likely successful Presidential candidate.

Put him together with Scott Walker or Sarah Palin and see how many votes you get - it's clear you'd lose Florida, Wisconsin and Alaska, and probably every other state.

Good, intelligent choice, once again!
6:56AM MAY 3RD 2012
Common thread in position 1 & 2 is No Income Tax. We could take over Texas and become Number One just by getting rid of the failed authorities or commissions with autonomous authority, that are strangling Florida by tying up our water, land, and oil. All done under the guise of protecting our environment. St. Johns Water Authority has no constitutional right to decide who gets to water their lawns and who doesn't. There is no constitutional authority nor moral authority to tell legal, rightful owners of property what they can do with the property. Get rid of the regulators and put the regulation in the hands of the legislature and we will be number on the day the bill is signed. The regulators are appointed and become the boogie man that cannot be reached. If all regulations were to come from the legislature, we could hold them accountable on primary day or election day.
9:56AM MAY 3RD 2012
No connection with reality, facts or the Constitution, apparently.

The St. Johns Water Management District is a creation of the Florida Constitution and Legislature: "The Legislature recognizes the need to allocate water throughout the state so as to meet all reasonable-beneficial uses" [ss. 373.016(4)(a), FS]"; "The governing board or the department may require such permits for consumptive use of water and may impose such reasonable conditions as are necessary to assure that such use is consistent with the overall objectives of the district or department and is not harmful to the water resources of the area." [ss. 373.219(1), FS]

ETC. ETC. So of course water management districts have no authority, other than that given directly to them constitutional and legislatively. You just don't like the law. . . . and by the way, it's not who gets to water their lawn, it's how often and on what days - most folks overwater their lawns and in times of drought that harms the resource (i.e. that awful word "sustainability") - after all, in Florida the water belongs to all of us, regulated by the water management districts, and not to the property owner as it does in the west - this is Eastern water rights law, not Western water rights law - get used to it.

As to the no one should be able to tell a property owner what they can do with their property, you lost that battle with our Founding Fathers. Today's zoning and other regulations came out of ancient nuisance law (i.e. you can't do something harmful on your property that affects your neighbor). If you don't like that, blame the foundations of our U.S. law. Learn to live with our laws and our Constitutions. You can always try to get them changed, but the majority of us get something to say about that also. You apparently just don't like what we've had to say about them in the past.

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