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Rick Scott's jobs tour has a public and private face

JACKSONVILLE — Gov.-elect Rick Scott seems to be on two jobs tours at the same time.

One resembles many of the events on his eight-month campaign for office: public events with photo ops and, on Tuesday, a question-and-answer session with a Jacksonville company's employees.

The other takes place behind closed doors. There, dozens of business interests get exclusive access to ask Florida's incoming governor for more tax money to spend, less taxes to pay and fewer regulations to obey.

Scott shrugged off questions about the second private meeting with business executives in two days. He is on a five-day, 10-city listening tour as he prepares to take office Jan. 4.

"People are not as receptive to talking" in front of media, Scott said. "If there's a lot of people, people don't talk as much."

Ben Wilcox of Common Cause, a nonprofit consumer advocate, said an open meeting would let the public see Scott at work.

"It would give the public more confidence if they knew what was being discussed," Wilcox said.

Scott said the public can ask questions at other events. He pointed to a "town hall" he held at the Flightstar Services hangar Tuesday. The international airplane maintenance company moved its morning break so roughly 300 nonunion workers on duty could ask questions.

"People can ask me any question they want," Scott said.

When a reporter asked later for specifics from the private meeting with executives, Scott spoke in generalities, saying they want "fair" regulations and tax incentives to bring more jobs to the state.

Tucker Morrison, Flightstar's executive vice president, agreed that it was better to keep media out of the meeting.

"The room wouldn't accommodate it," Morrison said, referring to about 10 reporters who attended the public question-and-answer session with the company's workers.

"We were trying to have an intimate setting," Morrison said. "He went around the room and gave everyone three to five minutes. I don't think you can do that in a larger room and have it feel as personal."

Some of the companies in the private meeting Tuesday included Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Medtronic, a maker of artificial heart valves and other medical devices.

On Monday, Scott met with defense contractors located near Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle.

Wednesday, Scott is scheduled to meet with 14 executives and business groups in North Florida. Later, the media are invited to join him on a tour of a Lake City manufacturing company and a walking tour of the city's downtown. He'll visit the Port of Miami in the afternoon.

Scott's tour is being paid for by some of the same industries asking him for business-friendly changes.

Groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Businesses are raising money from members and giving it to Florida's Foundation, a nonprofit that operates programs such as Gov. Charlie Crist's Fitness Challenge and the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

Scott said he would probably release the individual contributions.

"I doubt it's an issue," Scott said. "I don't know why we wouldn't."

Scott compared the jobs tour to his eight-month campaign for governor, saying that, generally, the issues were the same.

The public events during the first two days of the jobs tour have had a campaign feel.

In Flightstar's hangar, his advance team played country music before Scott arrived. The stage was decorated with video screens displaying, "Let's Get to Work," his campaign slogan.

Wearing cowboy boots for an event later in the day in Highlands County, Scott took eight questions from the Jacksonville workers. Scott steered most of his answers back to his top goal: job creation.

"You cannot fix public safety, you cannot fix public education, you can't do the right thing in health care unless people have jobs," Scott said. "We can't all become dependent on the government. There's not enough money."

But given one opportunity to help Florida's economy, Scott hired a California-based production company, Intuitive Technology Solutions, to help stage the jobs tour events and film segments for his transition website.

"I like Florida companies," Scott said when asked about the hiring decision. "Be patient."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rick Scott's jobs tour has a public and private face 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 11:16pm]
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