Enterprise Florida braces for proposed budget cuts

click to enlarge Enterprise Florida braces for proposed budget cuts
Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Florida's business-recruitment agency is bracing to operate with less money from the state but has not outlined changes that might need to be made.

Nor are Enterprise Florida officials publicly expressing hope that negotiations between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, will bolster the money available for the agency.

“We're going to wait to see what the governor does,” Mike Grissom, interim president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, said in reference to how Scott handles the new state budget (SB 2500). “We're privately planning. But we'll wait and see.”

Leaders of the public-private Enterprise Florida, as they began a two-day meeting Thursday in Tallahassee, outlined plans to alter marketing but otherwise mostly expressed disappointment in the spending package lawmakers formally sent to Scott on Wednesday.

“Would I like us to have a bigger budget so we can do some very targeted marketing during certain specific times when you would do TV? We don't have that, so we're going to focus on digital and print,” said Eric Silagy, president and chief executive officer of Florida Power & Light and chairman of Enterprise Florida's Marketing Committee. “We'll leverage wherever we can. … It's going to have to be very, very specific. But limited.”

A year after slashing operations by one-third, including eliminating nearly 30 positions, the agency is once again faced with having to make changes with the arrival of the new fiscal year on July 1.

There was no public talk Thursday of eliminating positions. And while the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors meets Friday at Florida State University, the board appears more likely to conduct conference calls later in the month —- once Scott acts on the budget —- to direct any changes.

Scott, who chairs the Enterprise Florida board, has expressed anger with the funding package but hasn't indicated if he'll sign the $82.4 billion budget before a June 15 deadline or detailed the extent of potential vetoes.

Scott proposed $85 million for Enterprise Florida to use for business incentives, but lawmakers did not provide any of that funding. Corcoran led opposition to Scott's proposal, likening incentive programs to “corporate welfare.”

But ongoing negotiations may be in play that could increase the $16 million that lawmakers agreed to provide to Enterprise Florida for daily operations.

Senate President Joe Negron told The News Service of Florida he is aware of ongoing talks between Scott and Corcoran regarding a sweeping education bill —- which contains a priority of the speaker —- and Enterprise Florida.

"I know those are discussions between those two parties that are occurring. From the vantage point of the Senate, we have been supportive of the governor having the ability to compete for new employers to come to Florida as long as it's done in a transparent and reasonable way," Negron, R-Stuart, said, pointing out that the Senate funded Scott's budget requests for Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida. "I think the Senate's track record in supporting the governor's priorities speaks for itself. But I understand that there are discussions on possible ways to resolve some of these differences as the governor is now considering the entire budget."

Corcoran, who did not immediately return a request for comment, wants to avoid a veto of a sweeping education bill (HB 7069) that he has made a priority. The education bill —- opposed by groups such as the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents —- includes money for such things as a charter-school expansion and pay bonuses for teachers and principals.

Enterprise Florida leaders said they've heard of such talks for weeks, but remain focused on the spending plan that lawmakers delivered to Scott. Along with rejecting Scott's request for business-incentive money, the budget would reduce the agency's funding for general operations from $23.5 million in the current year.

The state funding reduction is forcing the agency, which can still raise money from private donors, to scale-back its $8.5 million in marketing programs intended to make out-of-state and international business leaders aware of Florida's business attributes.

The budget, however, allows Enterprise Florida to maintain its international offices and continue foreign trade missions.
Scott unsuccessfully asked for $250 million a year ago for incentives, and this year his request was for $85 million to fund the Quick Action Closing Fund.

“I don't think we should be spending what New York is spending or California, and I don't think we should be offering $100 million (incentive deals) or whatever people do. But I don't think we should unilaterally disarm,” Silagy said. “We need to compete. You can't go on the field —- and to use a football analogy —- you can't go out on the field against the New England Patriots without pads. You're going to get creamed.”

On May 9, a day after the budget was approved by the House and Senate, Scott told reporters in Panama City that Florida won't be in the “game for economic development” due to the cuts to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“I hope everybody remembers that this is the day that for sure we start not being competitive,” Scott said.

Scott hammered a similar message later in May when announcing updated tourism and unemployment numbers.

“Businesses and site selectors have taken notice of the Florida Legislature's decision to turn their backs on the incredible return on investment economic-development programs like Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have brought to our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement May 16.

The state can still offer tax rebates to businesses through programs such as the Qualified Target Industries, which typically requires a local government match.

- News Service of Florida senior writer Dara Kam contributed to this report


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