The outlook was largely positive as Governor Rick Scott, government officials and business leaders gathered in Coral Gables to discuss progress in boosting Florida’s economy.
The Oct. 31 gathering coincided with a board meeting of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency.
Gov. Scott opened the discussion by praising both the public and private sectors for contributing to recent signs of economic recovery. He cited an increased focus on education and the addition of 365,000 private sector jobs since he took office.
“People are saying good things about what’s going on around the state – they’re excited,” Scott said. “Whether they’re a manufacturer or they’re in homes or ports, whatever, there’s a lot of great things going on.”
Gov. Scott also had a request for the business people in the audience.
“I did have a campaign promise of 700,000 jobs, so if you could add another 300,000 in the next year, that would be nice!” Scott added jokingly.
During the event at the Biltmore Hotel, the he head of Gov. Scott's business recruitment efforts received a $45,000 pay raise. The Enterprise Florida Board of Directors approved without comment a new two-year contract for Enterprise Florida President Gary Swoope, who is also the state secretary of commerce.
The new $275,000-a-year contract, which also sets a new maximum annual bonus for Swoope of $100,000, comes nearly three months after the board handed Swoope a $70,000 bonus.
The new contract for Enterprise Florida President Gary Swoope was quickly criticized by some groups as being "fiscally irresponsible."
But Swoope claimed that no part of the state has gone untouched by the group’s efforts. He said taking on competitive projects such as Fusion, a new joint venture by ABC News and Spanish-language TV network Univision, is what helps Florida get ahead.
“We’re winning these projects that are helping drive our family wages up,” Swoope said. “In competitiveness and jobs, we have momentum right now. We stick to our strategy, we win.”
The meeting comes on the heels of a highly critical report by the D.C.-based research group Good Jobs First. The report cited statistics showing that since 1995, only one-third of promised jobs have materialized.
Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson refuted those claims.
“Do not be distracted by this,” Wilson urged. “We’re growing the private sector, and the truth is there are some people that just don’t like that.”
Swoope was lured by Scott three years ago to Florida from Mississippi, where he was executive director of the state's Development Authority.
Under terms of the contract, Swoope would have to be paid $137,500 if he is fired without cause before the contract expires. The contract also requires Swoope to provide four weeks' notice if he takes another job.
To bolster support for the Enterprise Florida staff, the agency released a report Thursday claiming credit for 25,393 new and retained jobs, $1,955 billion in capital investment and $248 million in economic impact through sporting events promoted by Florida Sports Foundation, the agency's athletics division.
However, Integrity Florida, the Tea Party Network, Americans for Prosperity-Florida, and Progress Florida questioned why the big-name companies land large taxpayer-funded fiscal incentive packages.
"Most Florida employers who are creating private-sector jobs are doing so without subsidies from taxpayers," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, in a release on behalf of the four groups. "Florida needs to work to build a business environment where every employer matters, not just the connected."
The Goods Jobs First report, titled "Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs," was highly critical of privatized economic-development agencies such as Enterprise Florida.
"The cultures of these private development corporations fail on such basic competencies as vetting deal applications or accurately monitoring and honestly reporting job-creation outcomes on costly subsidy packages --- not to mention vetting of staff and oversight of spending," the Good Jobs First report said.
The report relied heavily on media reports and Integrity Florida, a group that has criticized Enterprise Florida for Swoope's bonus and for a lack of transparency in contracting and in the agency's website.
The report, which is heavily focused on five states --- Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina --- that have Republican governors, also questioned the bonus that was awarded Swoope in August.
The Enterprise Florida board of directors will meet again in 90 days.