Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gov. Scott a traveling salesman for state

Written by
Paul Flemming
News Journal

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott, Florida's self-described chief business-attraction officer left for his first foreign trade mission on Thursday to Panama.
It's the latest in a nonstop series of trips, visits, phone calls and pitches Scott has made in his first 10 weeks in office as the salesman-in-chief for the state.

"I love to make cold calls," Scott repeats seemingly every time he's in front of a microphone. "Call me. I want your leads."

His daily schedule is peppered with blocks of time committed to those pitches.

"In my business career I was never shy about picking up the phone and making a cold call to try to make something good happen," Scott said in his State of the State address earlier this month.

Business-attraction officials around the state say they've put Scott's dialing finger to work.

"I can only imagine if I was on the other end, that would make an impression," said Jim Moore, director of the Lee County Economic Development Office. Scott has made two calls to prospects at Moore's request.

Now Scott will also work his powers of persuasion on the Legislature as he tries to eliminate agencies, shift functions and unify economic development more firmly under his control. He also seeks more autonomy to make decisions and dole out money himself.

And he wants more money — $304 million this year, $500 million next year — to dangle in front of companies.

The Senate has a proposal that mirrors Scott's organizational-chart changes. But they've balked at handing over the checkbook and they want results.

During a committee meeting where the draft bill was released, Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, who represents portions of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, described Florida's economic-development efforts in terms of corporate governance and accountability as it's valued in the marketplace.

"Imagine that we're the shareholders of a company," Gaetz said of senators. "Things didn't go so well for the company and profits dropped. Now the company has got a budget gap ... in the $4 billion range. Now the shareholders come together. .... Are we absolutely sure we're getting a good return on investment for all the things we're doing for this company called Florida Inc., let's say."

Jobs Florida — Scott's new department of commerce — would have four divisions beneath it. Those divisions would address accounting, community development, business development and strategic planning.

A new position, Jobs Florida commissioner, would report directly to Scott — the governor has said the commissioner's physical office will be two doors down from his own in the Capitol. The commissioner would contract with the state's array of public-private partnerships that include Enterprise Florida, Space Florida, Visit Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation.

The draft bill eliminates the Department of Community Affairs and the Agency for Workforce Innovation as they now exist. It moves functions that aren't focused on job creation — emergency management and early learning, for instance — elsewhere.
The restructuring is estimated to save more than $8 million a year.

Scott is already acting on his vision.

In February, Scott engineered the hiring of Gray Swoope as president of Enterprise Florida, sweeping out the old leadership of the state's chief business-attraction arm. Swoope starts Monday. He previously worked in Mississippi in the same job for Gov. Haley Barbour.

Gaetz said the aim is to increase efficiency and address interagency malfunctions that have led to complaints about obstructionist bureaucracy.

Economic development officials around the state want it to work.

"We have had challenges with the timeliness of decisions from the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, said Cindy Anderson, executive director of TEAM Santa Rosa, the economic-development agency in the Panhandle county.

The Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development is within the governor's office and works with Enterprise Florida to put together incentive packages and sign off on eligibility criteria for prospective job-creating companies.

"I hope (a new state structure) would be quicker and more positive: 'Here's how we'll get the job done.' We don't want to hear any more, 'The problem is this, the obstacle is that.' "

Not everyone thinks the current setup is broken.

Beth Kirkland is executive director of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County and a board member of Florida's Great Northwest Inc.

"I've got five projects in the pipeline that go through Enterprise Florida and the Office of Tourism Trade and Economic Development. I like the model with Enterprise Florida as project managers," Kirkland said.

Anderson said when companies come to decision-making time, it's essential for her and economic development to have solid answers.

"Many times we say we believe we can offer you this," she said. "Other states don't do that. Two of our biggest competitors, Texas and Alabama, they can do it quickly and they have funds."

That's where Scott's personal involvement comes in.

Florida's governor is the nominal chairman of Enterprise Florida's board, but they almost always send a designee. In January, Scott chaired the meeting.

His dialing for jobs is more than a personal touch.

Collier Merrill, a Pensacola developer and president of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, says it puts prospects in touch with the ultimate decisionmaker.

"I have an office over in Alabama where people promise you things and they can't get anybody on the phone," Merrill said. "You get an aide to the chief of staff and they just can't make it happen. It's different if you've got the governor of Florida on the phone."

Don Kirkman, president of Florida's Great Northwest, started his job with the 16-county regional economic-development group in January after a decade at a similar position for North Carolina's Piedmont Triad Partnership. Scott's involvement is merely keeping pace with some other states.

"The governor of North Carolina made a similar commitment," to call prospects personally, Kirkman said. "It makes a tremendous difference when the governor is directly engaged."

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