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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott's cherished job recruiting agency agrees to major reforms to rein in spending

The government agency Gov. Rick Scott has prized as an essential job recruiting tool took major steps in reforming itself on Friday.

Just three months after the Florida Legislature refused to give Scott $250 million he had asked for to help lure more companies to the state, Enterprise Florida’s board of directors agreed to a major shake-up that includes cutting 26 employees, reducing office space in Florida, and eliminating its international footprint in markets like China and Japan where it is not generating enough foreign investments. 

The changes are expected to cut the agency’s expenses by at least $4.7 million, according to documents provided by Enterprise Florida. The biggest savings come from cutting employees. The board estimates it will save more than $2.1 million from those actions alone.

The moves come just a week after the agency’s highly-paid leader’s tenure officially ended. Bill Johnson, who earned $265,000 a year plus a $50,000 bonus, triggered a $132,500 severance package in his contract when Scott abruptly announced in March he would no longer lead Enterprise Florida.
Friday’s actions were expected after an outside consultant issued a stinging report in May that labeled the agency as “top heavy,” said it spends too much on office space, needed to rein in travel costs and lacked sufficient internal controls to prevent potential fraud.

Scott, who was on the conference call on Friday when the board agreed to the changes, said while he is proud of the work the state has done in improving the job market in Florida, the Legislature’s actions are forcing the state to change its approach.

“We’re going to have to do things differently,” Scott said.

The Republican-led Florida Legislature has becoming increasingly skeptical of Enterprise Florida. The Legislature earlier this year debated a series of reforms to better track spending by the quasi-government agency before killing Scott’s request for $250 million for job incentives. And incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has promised more scrutiny, saying earlier this year that the government’s overall role in commerce needs to be re-examined.

Created in 1996, Enterprise Florida is a private-public partnership that acts like a commerce department. When it started, the vision was for a more nimble agency than a typical government bureaucracy. It was proposed to have a 50-50 split between public and private funding. In reality, the agency relies on taxpayers for more than 90 percent of its costs.

While the Legislature refused to give Scott the incentive funding, Enterprise Florida is still set to receive nearly $24 million in state funding as part of the $82 billion budget that went into effect on Friday.

[Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2016 4:05pm]


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