Scott: Selling Florida With Intensity to Businesses Worldwide
Around the State
When Gov. Rick Scott won election last November, he said Florida is “open for business.” But since taking office, he hasn’t merely set up shop, he’s been promoting the Sunshine State’s business-friendly side to CEOs, ambassadors, prime ministers and anyone, anywhere, who will listen.
Scott is known for cold-calling executives thinking about moving their business to tout Florida’s advantages over other states.
“He’s in contact with businesses regularly, very regularly,” said Scott spokesperson Lane Wright.
His pitch varies depending on the type of company he’s trying to lure, but generally includes some variation of speeches Scott has made publicly, highlighting Florida’s lack of state income tax, status as a right-to-work state, and beautiful weather and beaches.
Those traits, however, are not new to Florida, and did not prevent unemployment from skyrocketing in the aftermath of the recession, so Scott also hypes his business-friendly policies designed to entice relocating companies of all kinds.
He proposed phasing out the state’s corporate income tax, which is an already modest 5.5 percent, and put a temporary freeze on new rules and regulations upon being sworn into office. The business tax cuts have not been included in either the House or Senate budgets passed earlier this month, but Scott’s plan to consolidate Florida’s economic development functions have gotten a warmer reception from legislators.
During Scott’s first four months in office, he hasn’t scored any major coups, but he has been out in front on some modest successes, highlighting businesses that have decided to make the move to Florida.
Soon after taking office, Scott touted Vision Airline’s decision to hub out of Northwest Florida Regional Airport, a move originally instigated by local economic development officials. It is expected to draw 4,200 jobs to the area.
Bing Energy, a California-based fuel cell manufacturer, decided to set up its headquarters in Tallahassee in February, and it is projected to create 244 jobs over seven years. It received $1.9 million in incentives from the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, Leon County and the City of Tallahassee. But Bing Energy executives said it was Scott’s plan to phase out corporate income taxes that was the deciding factor.
Chromalloy, an aviation maintenance and manufacturing company, followed in March, bringing 52 jobs with them in their relocation to Palm Beach Gardens.
In targeting businesses ripe for the plucking, Scott focuses on two of Florida’s economic pillars, tourism and agriculture, and a sector highly sought by economic development boards throughout the nation -- renewable energy companies.
“Obviously we’re going for Florida’s strengths. We do tourism well, but we want to do it better. Agriculture-type businesses are high on the list. We know we can do well with the agriculture community,” Wright said.
But it’s the renewable energy businesses that could bring the biggest economic windfall for Florida, since they generally involve a high-tech, highly-educated, higher-wage work force. Bing Energy’s jobs are expected to pay an average wage of $41,655.
Besides attempting to lure domestic companies, Scott has also been flying the Florida flag overseas, pushing the peninsula's potential to be a hub for international trade for the Caribbean and Latin America. The foreign minister of Japan, the ambassador of the United Kingdom and the prime minister of Kenya have met with Scott in Tallahassee, with the governor highlighting the need for increased trade between Florida and other countries.
Key to Florida's trade ambitions is the expansion of the Panama Canal, set to be completed by 2014, the 100th anniversary of its original opening. If the larger ships that will be able to cross the canal can find a Florida port, the benefits to the economy could be staggering.
Scott, who eschewed $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project, has pushed a $77 million investment in dredging the Port of Miami 50 feet, the depth needed to accommodate the larger ships that will make their way through the canal. He has stated that move could generate 33,000 jobs.
Florida is far from the only state courting the heftier ships sailing through the canal, but business leaders say the state has a leg up on other Gulf states.
"Florida is closest to Panama City of all the states and we already have a vibrant business relationship with them," said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.
During a trip to Panama in March, Scott stressed the need for the U.S.-Panama free trade agreement (FTA) to be ratified. Though it has been stalled since 2007, supporters of the Panama FTA received some hope this month when progress was made on the Colombia FTA.
Raising Florida's international profile is an extension of how Scott, a former executive with the health-care company Columbia/HCA, views the global economy.
"Businesses these days are becoming more and more mobile, and we've got to be competing, not just with other states but with other countries, too," Wright said.
It's too soon to tell whether Scott's policies are making an impact, but he was clearly not afraid of the unemployment numbers released Friday, which showed an 11.1 percent unemployment rate for March in Florida. Scott called a press conference to highlight a 0.8 percent drop in unemployment since he took office.
"We're clearly heading in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go, because we still have more than 1 million people out of work," Scott said during the press conference.
Reach Gray Rohrer at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.