FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Sounding Board: What does Florida mean to you?

?? (people who tell companies where to relocate and invest )

Dennis Donovan

"I think Florida is many, many years beyond just being viewed as a tourist destination and a retirement haven. Florida has a very good reputation as a place to do business. One challenge is keeping up with infrastructure. A lot of areas are getting behind the curve in terms of congestion and traffic and that is a major issue. The ability to keep up with water, sewer and roads is going to be very important for success."

Dennis Donovan, site selection consultant
with New Jersey-based WDG Consulting

Angelos Angelou

"We did the first technology strategy for Orlando in 2000. I recall I went around the room and asked 25 of the top stakeholders in the community, ‘How many tech companies do you think you have here?' The guesses ranged from 200 to 400. The community was not aware of its own strengths in this area. They were shocked to find they had a lot of tech companies, but they were hidden behind the Disney brand. They had more tech companies at that time than Austin. Because Florida is such a strong destination for tourists all over the world, that particular brand tends to overwhelm everything."

Angelos Angelou, CEO of Angelou Economics,
an economic development and site selection consulting firm
based in Austin, Texas

Jay Garner

"It is clearly improving. I had some challenges in doing business with various powers that be in Florida in the past because I got the perception, rightly or wrongly, that they were not as pro-business friendly as other locations and states. With the new governor and the new (Department of Commerce) Secretary Gray Swoope, it is clearly a whole different day in Florida. Enterprise Florida is much better today than what I had dealt with in years past. I had to deal with them once, and it was a challenge. Perception is almost 100% of reality in the minds of investors or people helping investors. Customer service and the people who rely on it are extremely important in the site selection process."

Jay Garner, president of Atlanta-based Garner Economics,
an economic development consulting firm

? ?(people who sell Florida to the outside world)

Gray Swoope

"Florida's kind of been the sleeping giant in that it's a dynamic economy. It consistently ranks high in Tax Foundation's tax climate. In fact, if you look right now, we're currently fifth in the United States and if you look at the four above us, they're Western states that we don't compete with. The point being, that from a business climate standpoint, we're competitive. But where the competition sees Florida in the past has been that ‘it's just hard to do business here.' That has been how states would position Florida as the competitive disadvantage. In a year's time, with Gov. Scott and removing regulations, making it easier to do business here, word is getting out."

Gray Swoope, Florida Secretary of Commerce,
president and CEO of Enterprise Florida

Manuel Mencia

"If you compare our image today to what it was two, three decades ago, it's suddenly perceived as a much more vibrant, much more diversified state than ever before. The new Florida is a state where our traditional industries, tourism and agriculture and retirement and real estate blend with a dynamic high-technology sector, which is now the third-largest sector in the U.S. We're one of the leading trade centers in the United States. We're the fourth exporter in the U.S. of high technology. We also boast one of the most dynamic and sophisticated aerospace business clusters in the country."

Manuel (Manny) A. Mencia, senior vice president and COO of Enterprise Florida's international trade and business development division

Mark Wilson

"I think Florida is the symbol of the new America, and I think if you compare, I see very, very much that Florida is the new frontier. The demographics of Florida today in 2012 are within a few percentage points of what the United States is projected to be in 2030. So you want to see what the United States is going to look like in 20 years, you just have to look at Florida currently. If you look at what we're doing with private-sector job creation, with streamlining state government, I think the business community within Florida has reason to be optimistic, and I'm seeing a lot of hope that I didn't see four or five years ago."

Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce

?? (economic developers who compete against Florida)

Eileen Pickett

"The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Florida are retirement and vacation. When I think of Orlando, I think Disney. When I think of Miami, I think of its size and large Hispanic culture, and Tampa Bay means beaches. Not having worked economic development in Florida, I really can't speak authoritatively on the topic, but here are some guesses about what would be Florida's strengths and weaknesses. Strengths: No personal income tax, very sellable quality of life and a strong state incentive program. The weaknesses are high costs of living and a challenging housing market as well as a perception of ‘old' workforce."

Eileen Pickett, senior vice president of community and economic development at Greater Louisville Inc. in Kentucky

Michael Olivier

"Florida has established itself. But sometimes the tourism element has gotten in the way. What you don't hear about as much is Florida's education and fantastic medical community. Beyond the sun and all, what you don't hear much about is the business climate. We know it's a good tourism market and a good place to visit, but you don't hear about the livability other than what was generated years ago about retirement communities. That worked for a long time. Now it's working against you. The wish to attract manufacturing sometimes has been thwarted by what people may consider an erosion of their livability if they attract manufacturing."

Michael Olivier, CEO of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, which focuses on promoting economic development in Louisiana

?? (people who chose to move to Florida)

Joe Meterchick

"I grew up in Philadelphia. I worked for PNC Bank since 1981. I liked working in Philadelphia, but I did it so many years I wanted a new challenge. I've had a house in Sarasota for a number of years, so I love Florida. Every year I stuck my hand up and said, ‘Can I come to Florida?' The problem was the only thing we had down here was wealth management until we bought National City. I came down in 2009. It's been fun. I find what happened is a lot of people came here from somewhere else and somebody helped them and I'm very happy they're helping me. In my world and the PNC world, we couldn't have been happier than to come to Florida. It was always something I wanted to do and the bank wanted to do. People couldn't be nicer and more welcoming."

Joe Meterchick, regional president/west Florida for PNC Bank in Tampa

Stephen Gardell

"I came in 2009. My familiarity with Florida would have been solely as a tourist destination. In terms of being a hub for what could be a destination for biomedical research, Florida would not have been on my list. I went into this — I wouldn't say it was outright skepticism — I was wary. I was wary this could actually become a reality down here in terms of being able to attract top-rate talent and truly to what extent this would be an incubator for groundbreaking research and the drugs of tomorrow. It's actually exceeded my expectations. In many respects, this really represented a greenfield for us down here. One of the things we're fond of saying, ‘The scientists who have come down here, we're very much pioneers.' This really gave us the opportunity to build something and mold something. It's always very satisfying to create something."

Stephen Gardell, Ph.D., associate professor/director of Translational Research Resources at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando

Michael Jacobsen

"It took me 18 years in the Navy to get stationed in Mayport (in Jacksonville). I had heard about Mayport being a great place to be stationed. I was down here for about three hours when I realized why people said it was great. ... My oldest is a freshman at FSU, and the other three are in high school. I live in St. Johns County. Good public school system, good church — all sorts of sports."

Capt. Michael Jacobsen, retired from the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville

Alberto Munoz

"We're from Spain. When we decided to come to the States, we checked New York, also Texas and Florida. We were completely sure Miami was the area we wanted to be. We came here five years ago. Miami is the most attractive place to be because the language and culture are very, very similar. It's the gateway to Latin America and also from Europe.

Miami is a huge city that's moving fast. We believe this city has a great potential. We feel this is the right place to be. The States in general are an open market; it's easy to get in. The authorities help to get your business here. It's a safe way to open a new market. The States are almost recovering, and Europe is still in trouble after five years."

Alberto Muñoz, CEO of Espacio USA in Miami

? ?(people who left Florida or chose not to come here)

Lou Guillette

"For folks at Florida universities, there's a perception that everybody is replaceable. When I interviewed in South Carolina, the provost told me his job as the leader of a major university is to figure out who he couldn't afford to lose and how to keep them. I still miss being in a college town and being at UF, but the opportunities I have here are greatly expanded by having an endowed chair. The only thing that was guaranteed at UF was nine months' salary and lab space. In contrast, here I have an almost $4-million endowed chair. I don't have to worry about whether I will have to let people go."

Lou Guillette, professor of obstetrics and gynecology
and an endowed chair in marine genomics at the
Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Guillette left Florida in 2010 after 25 years at the University of Florida.

Joe Steier

"We are huge Florida fans. I keep a home there. Relocating was definitely a hard decision. We worked with Charlie Crist and Jeff Atwater to stay in Florida, but it's hard when you are an existing business. There is a tendency to always reward the new and not build the existing. Nashville and Louisville made offers that were really aggressive. What Kentucky did for us, the package was closer to $8 million total. From where we were, it was a really good decision at the time. It was definitely not an easy move to make and complex emotionally, but we are a better company now."

Joe Steier, president and CEO of Signature Healthcare,
which moved its headquarters from Palm Beach County to Louisville, Ky., in 2010

Emily Patterson

"My husband was working for a small consulting firm in Memphis, and one of their competitors (in Orlando) contacted him. At the beginning, we said no, and they said, ‘come back and consider it.' The cost of living was very, very high compared to Memphis. In Winter Park, for us to get a comparable house to what we have, it would have been upwards of $600,000. Our house, at the time, was a $350,000 house. That was really discouraging to us. We had heard great things about education, but the schools that were really good were in neighborhoods that were unaffordable to us. We felt there wasn't a lot of culture to that area."

Emily Patterson, freelance event planner.
Her husband, Adam, is an investment consultant for retirement plans and turned down a job offer with an Orlando firm that would have doubled his salary.

Greg Livingstone

"We had offices in Florida, China, Belgium and a smaller office just outside Atlanta. We knew we had to consolidate operations somewhere. We did evaluate Florida, Jersey City and Belgium. A lot of our people do international travel, and we have people coming in from our office in China and from Belgium on a regular basis. New Jersey made direct flights much easier. And the state of New Jersey had an interesting set of programs they provided to us. They have a clean energy manufacturing fund set up with a matching investment if we are developing business in a certain area. We were developing a business in the wind area. We were able to apply and receive $3.3 million. It allowed us to build a new division that is called Fluitec Wind. We were not able to get any similar deals in Belgium or Florida, certainly not on the wind side. We got about the same amount ($3 million) with the employment business incentive program. It is based on how many employees we anticipate hiring. We just hired three people this morning. By the end of the year we will have 42 employees."

Greg Livingstone, chief marketing officer for Fluitec International.
Fluitec pulled out of Florida in 2011 to consolidate operations in New Jersey.


Gary Mormino

"I think we're so large, we're so fragmented, we mean just about anything America wants it to mean. To Midwesterners, it's still a great vacationland — places they've been coming for 75 years. Miami seems tarnished these days compared to what it was. To others, I think Florida is an environmental wonderland. To others, it's the epitome of an unregulated dysfunctional state. To seniors, Florida still represents a second chance, a Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth opportunity, or at least a better February. To many, I think it's a state of experimentation. I mean you look at some of these experiments in urban living in the Panhandle with St. Joe Co. and places like Celebration. It's astonishing really, how daring some of these experiments are."

Gary Mormino, Frank E. Duckwall professor of history and co-director of the Florida Studies Program at USF St. Petersburg

Lance deHaven-Smith

"Florida is sort of like a Rubik's Cube or a kaleidoscope ... an event can happen and that kaleidoscope twists and suddenly Florida, which was a beauty queen state and Disney World and a place for recreation, then suddenly it's a bunch of bozos that can't run an election. We're sort of at the mercy of events. That's what you don't want to be. You want to be in command of your own fate, and to do that you have to have enough solid things tied to a plan and a vision that small events, regional events, can't knock you off course. And, unfortunately, Florida has never had that."

Lance deHaven-Smith, professor in the Reubin O'D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University