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Robert Trigaux

Backlash grows to Scott plan consolidating Visit Florida, other job-marketing groups



welcome_to_floridasign.jpgWake up and good morning. Rising skepticism and protest are emerging across Florida to Gov. Rick Scott's decision to disband the public-private partnership structure of Visit Florida and to pull it -- and other specialized, focused economic development groups -- under his wing and personal oversight in Tallahassee.

The Scott plan calls for one goliath economic-development bureaucracy to absorb three existing state agencies: the Agency for Workforce Innovation; the governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; and the Department of Community Affairs, which oversees growth management. And it would run Florida's public-private job-creation organization, Enterprise Florida, merging it with the state Sports Foundation, the Black Business Investment Board and tourist-promoting Visit Florida. A new governing board would take over Brevard-based Space Florida, which oversees aerospace recruitment.

House and Senate lawmakers are still debating whether to to call this new entity "Jobs Florida" or the "Department of Economic Opportunity."

Much of the protest is questioning the logic or business sense of such rapid dismantling of business development groups that, like Visit Florida, was considered to have a good reputation for doing its job well. Part of the protest is the apparent disregard for the public-private partnership structure -- Republican hallmarks -- that formed the foundation of groups like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida that will not be part of a new state government agency. And part of the protest is over Scott's decision to act unilaterally without even telling these groups that their lives, as they know it, are probably over.

Says a Jacksonville Times Union editorial: "It's part of Gov. Rick Scott's mammoth reorganization that is intended to focus on jobs. Successful partnerships like Visit Florida, unfortunately, have been caught in the wake of the governor's goal. So a large board of tourism industry professionals would be replaced by a small board of political appointees. Visit Florida leaders were not consulted on the change. It's a classic case of fixing something that's not broken. 'It's just unbelievable,' said Jack Healan Jr., senior consultant with Omni Hotels & Resorts at Amelia Island Plantation and a charter member of Visit Florida. 'What are they thinking? Well, they're not.'"

A St. Augustine Record editorial reminds us why Visit Florida was created in the first place. " Ironically Visit Florida was created 15 years ago to take the politics out of tourism promotion, as had often happened when tourism was under the old Commerce Department."

Groups like the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association have issued resolutions seeking to preserve Visit Florida. Good luck.

It's not just tourism that's worried. Consolidating the budgets of Florida’s economic development and job creation agencies into the hands of Scott also worries Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, over his aerospace marketing agency’s ability to lure business and employment to Brevard County, says Florida Today.

I'm sensing some confusion on the mission here. If Scott wants to shrink government and let it get out of the way of the free market, why supersize a state agency that will control all the dollars committed to economic development?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011 6:53am]


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