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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Major changes proposed for Scott's cherished job recruiting agency

Gov. Rick Scott's cherished job recruiting agency is about to undergo significant change after the Legislature rebuffed him on his top legislative priority.

Enterprise Florida would cut 30 percent of its "top-heavy" workforce, its office space in Orlando and Tallahassee could move to cheaper places, travel spending would be reined in and key parts of the agency's current responsibilities would fall under a different agency under a recommendation from a consultant hired to review the agencies operations.

At a meeting in Naples, David Wilkins told the Enterprise Florida Board, and Scott, this morning that Enterprise Florida needs to change its business development program from one in which it assembles potential incentives for any business to move to Florida, to one that targets and seeks specific industries that the state sees as more of a priority. He said the changes he's outlined could produce $6 millions in savings.

He stressed that the agency in general is one of the best use of tax dollars in the state, but acknowledge he found "significant" opportunities for savings.

"You should never be afraid to tweak the model and improve on what we are doing," said Wilkins, the former head of the Florida Department of Children & Families whom Scott called on in March to re-examine Enterprise Florida in light of the Legislature refusal to fund a job creation program he made a top priority.

Scott said many of the changes could be instituted over a number of months, but called on the Enterprise Florida officials to immediately change travel policies to fight perception that the agency is spending lavishly on travel.

"I did not find exorbitant abuse of the travel and expense policy," Wilkins said. "But at the same time, I don't know why in some areas we needed to deviate from state policies around travel and expenses.

Changing how the agency handles hotel, mileage and meal expenses would save $150,000, he said.

Enterprise Florida is a private-public partnership that acts like what other states do in a department of commerce. When it was created, the vision was to create and agency with a 50-50 split between public and private funding. In reality, the agency relies on taxpayers for more than 90 percent of its costs.

With a Legislature increasingly examining the role of government in private business, state political leaders are under pressure to justify using public funding to help certain businesses grow in Florida, while others don't enjoy the same benefit.

It's in that environment that the Florida House refused to commit any new funding to Enterprise Florida for Scott's primary job recruiting fund. Scott responded by abruptly announcing current Enterprise Florida leader Bill Johnson would leave the agency triggering a $132,000 severance payment. Scott also announced plans to re-examine how Enterprise Florida operates and called on Wilkins to review the agency.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 11:57am]

    

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