May 29, 2020

Up Front - The Publisher's Column

Making a case for Enterprise Florida

Andrew P. Corty | 9/28/2015

I don't frequently dive into political waters, but I can't help myself this time.

Gov. Rick Scott has made jobs the centerpiece of his administration, and it's no surprise that he wants to fill Florida's quiver with lots of arrows to attract businesses. What is surprising is that the Republican Legislature isn't 100% supportive of the plan put forward by the Republican governor.

Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private partnership to attract business, says its incentive toolkit is running out of money — it has just $9 million, an amount that's supposed to last through the middle of 2016. That's not nearly enough.

Enterprise Florida is careful in how it hands out incentive money. It focuses on companies that pay at least 25% more than average wages. And the incentives have an ROI of at least 5:1, often higher.

Critics argue that Enterprise Florida participates in “corporate welfare,” awarding incentives to profitable companies. But what are we supposed to do if other states offer these inducements, states like Texas or South Carolina or Mississippi? It's called competition!

Other critics argue that Enterprise Florida is sitting on millions of dollars in its escrow funds. It's true, EFI escrows money until a business performs as promised ... the payout comes only when a company meets its goals.

That escrow system is exactly what previous legislatures encouraged and exactly the system that any sensible banker, Realtor or business executive would demand. Legally, funds must remain in escrow, even when interest rates are low (like now). Would you want to invest that money in the stock market and take a chance that a drop (like those we recently experienced) would deplete those funds?

And here's the final point — any funds not spent revert to Florida's general revenue fund. If a company fails to meet its promises, the escrow money goes back to the state.

So I'm at a loss. If Enterprise Florida does a good job (which it does), if other states compete for corporate re-locations (they do), if companies are trying to get the best deal (they are) and if unspent money reverts to the general fund (it does), then why not fund EFI to the fullest extent possible?

If you want Florida to remain a state for just tourism, agriculture, retirement and construction (all valuable elements), then vote against Enterprise Florida funding. But if you want to add the more modern economy — health care, education, biotech, IT and so on — then let's get cracking.

Florida TaxWatch has just celebrated its 35th anniversary, and it seems whenever this magazine writes about taxes (see editor Mark Howard's column, page 124 of the October issue), we regularly turn to TaxWatch's analysis. Dominic Calabro, who's been at TaxWatch since 1980, has always done an admirable job as president and CEO. Even the most innocuous-seeming tax report has the potential of becoming incendiary these days, and the organization's survival is a credit to his ability to navigate difficult political waters while remaining credible and non-partisan.

Uber's disruptive technology seems like it's here to stay. When virtually all Florida Trend readers use this and similar car services, government regulators must take notice. Do we want to be dinosaurs and disappoint our 100 million visitors? I don't think so. (Access our coverage here or you'll find it in the October print magazine, on page 82.)

Fitness update: The summer was hotter than blazes, but I'm looking forward to the Turkey Trot 5k at the end of November. Training is under way with lots of water at the end of each run.

— Andy Corty

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