March 24, 2018

Up Front - The Publisher's Column

Performing a vital function

Andrew P. Corty | 1/26/2017

Recently, two of my favorite state agencies — Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida — have come under attack for wasting money. Even though funding comes from the “state,” it’s really our money, namely the taxpayers’ money. Some members of the Legislature wish to cut funding to these two agencies.

Critics argue that tourists and businesses will come to Florida anyway. That argument is partially true — millions of tourists come for our sunshine, beaches and attractions, and some businesses will open here as they are drawn to our growing population, now numbering 20.6 million people .

The problem comes when these same critics say government should run like a business. Well, truth be told, business executives are graded on outputs, not inputs. Of course, lapses can force execs out of their offices. But in general, business desires more growth, more sales and more profit. Discussions about laying off staff or cutting costs are really about increasing profitability.

These two agencies have performed admirably. As Visit Florida notes, Florida now welcomes 106 million tourists, up from 82.3 million in 2010. That translates to about 1.2 million jobs, including everything from maids and chefs to accountants and managers. And the 106 million doesn’t include in-state travel. So when a Florida resident like myself stays at a hotel in Jacksonville or attends a conference in Miami , eats dinner, buys knickknacks, fill s the car with gas, whatever, that counts for nil.

Critics argue that Visit Florida should spend funds differently — or shouldn’t spend state money at all. Yet the agency’s marketing is sharp. Honestly, I didn’t even know who Pitbull was until his sponsorship became an issue. But I do like the concept of bringing Millennials to Florida. And I do trust the marketing minds at Visit Florida to make these judgments.

The same goes for Enterprise Florida, which is charged with expanding and diversifying the state’s economy through job creation. Does a state as large as Florida not need a sales and marketing arm? Who will organize Florida’s presence at the Paris Air Show? Who will greet site selectors when they look at our state? Who will organize a database of potential business locations? Who will work with other agencies to assist companies with permitting and regulatory needs? Who will help our smaller businesses grow by exporting?

You don’t have to agree with everything Gov. Rick Scott has done to know the state’s reputation has changed for the better in the last half dozen years. Before, Florida wasn’t considered business friendly by many companies, which looked elsewhere to expand or relocate. Now, Florida is in the hunt. When you look at Hertz, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, Navy Federal Credit Union, Haeco, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb or Embraer, you realize how competitive the landscape really is. These companies could set up shop anywhere. If we want them here, then we must be in the game.

Enterprise Florida performs another task for which it gets little credit: It acts as a research center and clearinghouse, referring projects to local economic development organizations.

Finally, Enterprise Florida provides incentives — I prefer to call them “investments” — to bring companies to Florida. Do you really want to unilaterally disarm our efforts to compete with other states? Business executives act as fiduciaries for their companies and look to cut the best deals possible for their companies, with incentives playing a role.

Let’s fund these vital state agencies and keep the tourists and companies flowing into Florida.

— Andy Corty


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