New state commerce agency is born

Tallahassee, FL – Florida's newest agency was born this week when Governor Rick Scott signed a government -reorganization bill that creates the position of Commerce secretary. Lynn Hatter reports, this has some seeing opportunities to lure more business into the state.

Governor Rick Scott is playing up the possibilities of the new Department of Economic Opportunity to bring more jobs to Florida.

"We will now have a single point of contact for businesses looking to expand or move here. Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope will lead our rapid-response to business opportunities so that Florida does not miss out."

The newest state agency has, at its heart, the public-private partnership called Enterprise Florida. And its role is so central that Scott also named its director, Gray Swoope as the state's new Commerce secretary and agency head. And in that new agency, communities and local leaders are seeing potential. The City of Crestview in Northwest Florida is looking to recruit a pharmaceutical company and its competing with Alabama. Businessman and former Destin Mayor Craig Barker says Crestview has a jump on its competition with the proximity of Florida A&M University's Pharmacy School. Now, he says all they need is an offer from the state.

"We're working with Enterprise Florida to establish the traditional set of incentives for the company, primarily tax abatements and things like that. So we're working with the county and the cities to put forth an incentive package that we feel will be competitive to the other state's that are recruiting this company."

The new Department of Economic Opportunity comes in. It's able to offer things like tax breaks, rebates, and a streamlined regulatory process. Al Latimer is the senior Vice President of External Affairs and Investor Relations for Enterprise Florida. He says Enterprise Florida is able to work with local governments to bring in companies.

"We try to find out what those companies will need, in terms of regulatory relief, or it could be we work with the local community to provide additional land, help them with zoning, help them permitting, anything we can do to help support the expansion of those businesses."

The Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, Department of Community Affairs, and Agency for Workforce Innovation along with growth management have all been folded into the Department of Economic Opportunity. The agency has the ability to offer incentive deals for up to five million dollars with the Governor's approval. Packages for more than five million require legislative budget commission approval. And Scott is looking to these groups to help him with his plan of creating 700-thousand jobs in seven years. The governor, recently back from a trade mission to Canada, is trying to sell the state to prospective businesses, and he highlighted all the positive things Florida has going for it.

"Whether its no personal income tax, the fact we're fading out the corporate tax, whether its our beaches, the proximity to the Panama Canal, the pure business climate, an educated workforce all reasons why people want to do business here."

The consolidation of so many agencies means the loss of jobs. The Department of Community Affairs, Agency for Workforce Innovation and Office of Tourism Trade and Development are scaling back staff, and eliminating over-lapping positions. And environmentalists fear a pro-business agency will trade fragile lands in favor of dollars and urban sprawl.