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May 26, 2018

Statewide News

A New Economic Developer-in-Chief

Gray Swoope, new president of Enterprise Florida, recently talked to FLORIDA TREND about his new job.

Charlotte Crane | 5/13/2011
Gray Swoope
Gray Swoope, 49

Previous posts: Executive director, Mississippi Development Authority since 2007; chief operating officer, Mississippi Development Authority, 2004-07; president, Area Development Partnership, Hattiesburg, Miss., 1997-2004

Education: Undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration, Mississippi
State University

Family: Wife, Mary McDaniel Swoope; two daughters, ages 12 and 20

Hobbies: Fishing, golfing, going to the beach; longtime interest in space exploration
[Photo: Colin Hackley]

Florida Trend: What skills do you have that make the Enterprise Florida job a good fit for you?

Gray Swoope: I bring a style of management that promotes collaboration and team spirit; public-private partnering is the key to recruiting or retaining jobs. Anyone who has ever worked with me will describe my style as "relentless'' when it comes to
competing for jobs.

How will recruiting in Florida compare to recruiting in Mississippi?
The model for recruiting business is the same: We have to have a structure that supports sales. In Mississippi, Gov. Barbour was hands-on; Gov. Scott is the same. Economic development is his priority. Jobs are his priority. Among differences are the markets that are targeted — but with some overlap. Florida has many competitive advantages, including urban centers with strong economic development councils. Florida's population is six times Mississippi's and is more diverse and more business-diverse.

What types of businesses are most suited for Florida?
Enterprise Florida has identified six industry sectors suited for Florida: Information technology, life sciences, aviation/aerospace, clean technology, homeland security/defense and financial/professional services. We have strengths to compete in every one of those sectors.

What are Florida's sellable points?
Florida has name recognition. People already think of Florida from a tourist standpoint. In the global marketplace, name recognition is an advantage. Florida is an innovation leader and possesses workforce and entrepreneurial talent that ranks among the top states in the country. Consider our Space Coast. Florida is the trademark when it comes to anything to do with space. Florida has a competitive advantage and capacity there that cannot be matched anywhere in the world. Our task as a team is to restructure and reshape that resource for further job creation.

What were the tools that helped Mississippi be successful in recruiting business?
Our Mississippi team put together one of the most responsive state agencies in the country. We would respond in a professional, accurate manner, and once we made a decision, we delivered on time and on budget.

What were your biggest successes?
There were projects that will pay long-term benefits, like GE, which is producing composite jet engine components. What's important is not only GE's relationship with the work force, but also the university system, in setting up test facilities and doing ongoing research and development to improve the advanced materials. Mississippi also landed Toyota's 10th North American manufacturing plant, with 2,000 jobs and a $1.3-billion investment, to open in November. Similarly in Florida, we will lean on our university partners in creating both immediate jobs but also long-term jobs.

How important are incentives in attracting business?
You have to look at the economic return and what does it do to diversify the economy. I'm conservative: We need to be concerned for the return to the taxpayer as well as for the benefit to the customer.

Are there other tactics you plan to use to win more businesses to Florida?
We will continue to grow our international footprint. Advantages for international trade include Florida's 14 deepwater ports and our international centers for Central and South America. Today's competition for jobs is global. It's Florida vs. another country. Right now the U.S. dollar is weak, which translates to opportunities for trade and foreign direct investments.

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