Rural County Leaders Strategize How to Get in on Jobs Action
Around the State
How can small counties that lack the money and appeal of their prosperous, larger counterparts compete to attract new businesses and desperately needed jobs?
Leaders of the Sunshine State’s 32 rural counties meeting at the Florida Rural Economic Development Summit in St. Augustine Thursday afternoon mulled over just that. They were earnest, they didn't mince words and they believe Gov. Rick Scott is playing their tune.
“We have been inadequately stacking up,” said Bill Stanton, the executive director of the Jackson County Development Council, drawing on his four decades of experience. “We have not been competing very well.”
“We have never had good competitive programs,” he said. But he had words of high praise for Enterprise Florida.
Allen Cherry, the coordinator and director of economic development for Madison County, felt the frustration firsthand. Cherry and his team attempted to lure a Georgia-based company looking to establish a 400-job facility. Madison, he said, went head-to-head with communities from the Peach State.
“Competing with Georgia, we need to be ready with all incentives we have on hand,” said Cherry, who added that geography -- specifically, distance from commercial centers -- that lost Madison County those jobs.
Joel Gunter, the director of Enterprise Florida’s Business Development, Business Retention and Recruitment Division, urged summit attendees to come to his team when they face competition from outside Florida in luring projects and jobs.
“Our team is there to work with you,” Gunter told his audience. “Use our team as a resource. Bring us in early.”
Gunter reminded summit attendees that Florida has a number of tools to lure jobs from out of state, including the Qualified Target Industry (QTI) tax refund, the Economic Development Transportation Fund (EDTF) also known as the “road fund” and other incentives and tax credits, including sales tax exemptions. Gunter also pointed out that the governor has a deal-closing tool in a closing fund. The Legislature appropriated $15 million in that fund last year and must approve if the governor wants to disburse more than $2 million from those monies to lure jobs.
“We’re hopeful that is increased this year,” said Gunter.
While he noted that he did not vote for Rick Scott in November, Stanton expressed optimism that the new governor will help with economic development efforts in the 32 rural counties in Florida.
“He campaigned and talked the talk,” said Stanton of Scott. “I’ve observed in the last five to six weeks, he is walking the walk.”
Saying he is “encouraged,” Stanton said he is happy to see that Scott wanted to bring back the department of commerce, noting that the then-Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson proved very successful when he oversaw the department under Gov. Bob Graham, and Jeb Bush did well under Gov. Bob Martinez.
Stanton added that he hopes the Legislature will increase the amount of the governor’s closing funds, noting such monies are critical in competing with other areas for jobs. He also said he's never drawn on them in his 40 years pushing economic development in Florida.
“There’s a shot we’re going to have a closing fund like we’ve never had before,” said Stanton.
Stanton urged summit attendees to promote the economic opportunities to companies looking to relocate projects and positions to the Sunshine State. He pointed to two companies he helped convince to set up distribution centers in Marianna, bringing with them 750 jobs and $175 million. It took less than a year to set up distribution centers for Family Dollar and ProLogis/Arizona Chemicals, both of which are off I-10 in Marianna.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.