In governor's race, Alex Sink pins hopes on economic savvy, new 'business plan for Florida'
Wake up and good morning. Adelaide "Alex" Sink, Florida's CFO and the Democratic candidate running for governor, meets this morning with a group of small business people in West Palm Beach to hear their cries for help about the lack of available credit and to unveil her own "Business Plan for Florida" tour. This is the plan -- reviving the Florida economy -- Sink hopes will carry her to victory as the next governor. (Photo, left, AP's Steve Cannon.)
Sink wants to leverage her many years as a Florida banker to demonstrate she knows how business works and can serve not only as governor but as the state's economic ambassador as Florida struggles back from a severe recession and 11.9 percent (and rising) unemployment rate. That's a tricky political move since Republican-backed ads on TV already portray Sink's previous days as a banker as one marked by millions of dollars in pay and layoffs she engineered as Florida president of NationsBank, now Bank of America. The photo (below, right, by Robin Donina of the St. Petersburg Times) was taken during an interview I did with Sink in 1993 in Tampa when she was named NationsBank president.
I caught up with Sink late Tuesday by phone as she described her "business plan" that will be formally unveiled by Sink in person this morning. The details are now on Sink's campaign Web site, so take a look for yourself. Here's the short version and excerpts from my interview with her:
1. To jumpstart jobs in the short term, Sink would push tourism by advertising heavily in winter-weary northern states. Says Sink: "We know long term we have to get away from a tourist economy. But we've just gone through the roughest winter we've had in a long time up north. Why not scrape up some money to do heavy marketing? We would see an impact within seven days."
2. To create more jobs, Sink wants to improve the flow of capital to Florida small businesses. She says she is lobbying banks in the state and talking to bank regulators like FDIC chair Sheila Bair to "give us a break" and let banks feel more like lending in the state again. Sink also wants to create a "small business ombudsman" in the governor's office who would report to her as governor and keep her close to the business community.
3. Longer term, Sink wants Florida to pursue higher level jobs based, for example, on commercializing promising research under way at Florida universities. She also speaks of tax credits and incentives to attract businesses in specific industries and encourage more start-ups. Says Sink:
"I am not interested in being governor of the status quo and low wage jobs and tourism if that is what the people want. We are at a turning point in history experiencing an immense economic hurricane."
Sink says the same bits and pieces of conversation about the need for change can be found as far back as Gov. Bob Graham's days. "I am tired of just talking about it," Sink says.
It all sounds practical and good -- and probably not much different from what other candidates will say. In this recession, there's a huge gulf between talking about creating jobs and actually creating them. The federal government, despite all the borrowed-money stimulus funds, has had a weak track record fighting unemployment. And the Florida government, which must balance its state budget amid current deficits, is extremely limited in what it can offer.
The final trick in all this, noted in this column in today's St. Petersburg Times, is that Florida's unemployment rate is likely to crest well above 12 percent — just about the time Floridians head to the November polls. By then each candidate -- Sink and Republican candidates Bill McCollum, the state attorney general, and state Sen. Paula Dockery -- will be pressed to make their economic case to financially exhausted voters.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist