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Gov. Rick Scott takes credit for business expansion that started before he took office

Gov. Rick Scott, left, shakes hands Wednesday with the president and CEO of Garda World Stephan Cretier.

Associated Press

Gov. Rick Scott, left, shakes hands Wednesday with the president and CEO of Garda World Stephan Cretier.

TALLAHASSEE — Phone a CEO. Support tax cuts. Attend a press conference.

Those are the actions Gov. Rick Scott said he took to persuade three companies to bring new jobs to Florida. That limited participation, however, hasn't stopped him from taking credit for those businesses plus all 50,000 jobs the state has added since January.

"We are capturing the attention of the business community worldwide," Scott said Wednesday while announcing Garda World Security, a Montreal-based armored car company, would move its U.S. headquarters from Pasadena, Calif., to Boca Raton.

But Garda's expansion into Florida along with similar announcements from Vision Airlines and Bing Energy earlier this year was started and nearly completed when former Gov. Charlie Crist was in office.

While the economy dictates the fate of many politicians, Scott has made job creation the defining characteristic of his administration. But his zeal to count every new job toward his campaign promise of creating 700,000 has some questioning his credibility.

"Despite the promise to be an outsider, he is nothing more than a typical politician who wastes money for his own ego and takes credit for other people's work," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.

Scott's office acknowledges that the three companies started the process to move to Florida while Scott was a candidate for governor. But the former hospital executive and venture capitalist portrayed himself Wednesday as the closer who stepped in and cemented the deals as a new governor.

"I'm extremely pleased we were able to close the deal," Scott said.

Scott spends several hours every week in "economic development" meetings but only recently signed into law his first budget, which contains the bulk of his policy changes.

When Scott ran for office last year, he told voters that Florida enforced too many regulations, collected too many taxes and wasn't friendly to businesses.

Either Scott was wrong about Florida's business climate or it has made drastic improvements during Scott's five months in office.

When Garda made its decision, Scott said Wednesday, "Florida was chosen over two other states thanks to our low taxes and our great business climate and it's just a wonderful place to live."

Economist Sean Snaith said its virtually impossible to prove "causality" when it comes to a politician's role in shaping the economy.

"There's many things you may criticize the governor for, but you can't criticize his timing," said Snaith, a University of Central Florida professor. "It's impeccable. He came into office just as the economy was starting to turn."

Scott's office isn't parsing at all.

According to state statistics, Florida has added 50,000 non-agricultural jobs since January. (Florida lost 12,900 jobs in January, which means if Scott's office started its count in December instead of January, their total count would be thousands less.)

Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said all 50,000 count toward the goal of 700,000 jobs in seven years.

"We're on track," Burgess said.

But the fine print of Scott's campaign promise is more nuanced.

When Scott put out his economic plan, state economists had already estimated that Florida would gain 1 million jobs over seven years with no major change to state policy. Pressed about that, Scott said his plan accounted for that prediction and would add an additional 700,000.

Despite a current unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, job growth is ahead of economists' projections.

Instead of counting that difference toward Scott's goal, his office is counting every one.

Scott's latest announcement was made in Montreal, where he's on his second foreign trade mission in three months. He visited Panama in March and plans to travel to Brazil in October.

The Garda deal, however, had been finalized for months and was reported by the Palm Beach Post in February. The company took $1 million in incentives from Boca Raton, Palm Beach County and the state in return for a promise to create 100 jobs with an average salary of $65,769 by the end of 2013.

Gary Hines, senior vice president of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board, said the county and the company started talks in August, but that Scott did play a role once he took office.

"He made a phone call," Hines said.

Garda CEO Stephan Cretier recalled that Scott called on his fifth day on the job in January and said, "Hey, we want Garda in Florida."

"I have been very impressed," Cretier said.

Similarly, Bing CFO Dean Minardi said he decided to bring his fuel-cell manufacturing company to Tallahassee in December, after Scott won election and promised to phase out corporate income taxes. The company plans to hire 12 employees and add a total of 244 jobs in seven years.

"There is no guarantee on the corporate income tax," Minardi said after a press conference with Scott in February. "But it makes sense."

In January, two weeks after he took office, Scott stood side-by-side with Vision Airlines chief operating officer David Meers, who announced the company would open an Atlanta-Fort Walton Beach route and bring 4,200 "direct and indirect" jobs to Florida.

Scott took credit for those jobs during the press conference.

"The way I look at it," Scott said at the time, "if I could do about 150 of those, then I get to my 700,000 jobs."

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Gov. Rick Scott takes credit for business expansion that started before he took office 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 11:08pm]
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