By John Celock
Florida’s governor used his State of the State address this week to defend the state’s public/private partnerships for economic development and tourism.
Gov. Rick Scott (R) made the defense of the two agencies – Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida – central to his State of the State address Tuesday. Both agencies – which are funded in part by private donations along with taxes – have been under fire by conservative lawmakers who have said that the agencies are picking which industries will succeed in the state. Scott defended the two agencies – created before his governorship – as ways to recruit businesses and tourists to the state.
“Enterprise Florida has been responsible for over 900 projects since I have been governor, including helping businesses like Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Hertz add thousands of high wage jobs in Florida,” Scott said. “And, we can easily show a great return on the investment of families’ tax dollars because jobs are being created by more companies moving to our state. When we announced Hertz was moving their corporate headquarters to Florida from New Jersey in 2013 and adding 700 new high-wage jobs, it was the first major relocation by a Fortune 500 company while I have been governor.”
Scott said that it was fair for lawmakers and critics of the two agencies to point out flaws in their management. At the same time, Scott said that should be a catalyst for reforming the two agencies, not trying to eliminate them.
“I want to be very clear in acknowledging that both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida have made mistakes along with their many successes over the years. And I do not fault anyone for pointing out those mistakes.” Scott said. “Any time we can eliminate government waste we should do it. But, just like we would do in the business world, we have made changes at both agencies so the organizations can be more efficient and transparent. Any CEO or business owner will tell you that mistakes are made sometimes. But, you don’t just give up and shut down, and take your ball and go home. You figure out what the problem is and fix it. Let’s remember, we are talking about people’s jobs and their ability to provide for their family.”
Scott said that he is not looking to pick “winners or losers” amongst the state’s business community but said that Florida is competing with 49 other states for jobs and the state needed an aggressive economic development arm to market the state. Enterprise Florida handles a variety of marketing functions for the state, along with administering tax credit programs for economic development.
Scott said that in terms of Visit Florida, the state has a thriving tourism industry but needs to continue to promote the state as a tourism destination. He said that a decline in tourism marketing could negatively impact the state’s tourism economy, one of the top industries in the state.
“Getting rid of Visit Florida and ending advertising for tourism doesn’t make any sense in the real world. Successful companies know how to market themselves and they don’t stop advertising when business is good,” he said. “Coca-Cola and Chic Fil A didn’t stop running ads when they reached the top of their industry. Think about it for a minute. Do we really have to argue about how important tourism is to our economy? And do we really need a debate about whether marketing and advertising works?”
Scott also noted that he wants to address the state’s tax system in order to promote the economy. Among the issues he said is he wants to develop a solution in his final two years in office to make it harder for future governors and lawmakers to raise taxes in the state. He also called for the end of the state’s commercial lease tax, calling it unfair to small businesses.
Scott also touched on last year’s ISIS inspired shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 club goers died. He talked about his time with victims and their families in Orlando following the shooting and noted that it was one of the toughest part of his governorship. He said that he was investing more funds in his budget proposal for public safety and counterterrorism.
Scott said that Orlando shooting and other incidents in the state over the past year have shown him the background of Florida residents.
“And, if there is one thing you remember from this speech today, I hope it is this: Florida is a state full of fighters, and I will never stop fighting for our families.” He said. “Floridians are strong. Floridians are selfless. Floridians are fighters.”