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Amid bad publicity over job hype, don't count Scott out just yet

It's too easy to punch holes in Gov. Rick Scott's economic storytelling about creating jobs in Florida.

Most of the state's press is having a field day lampooning Scott for taking credit for recent meager jobs relocations or expansions in Florida when, quite often, these deals were cut well before he took office.

Don't count him out yet.

For sure, Scott's jobs announcements from last week's Canada trade mission did not earn him credibility points. A $1 million incentive deal to entice Montreal-based Garda World Security Services to relocate its U.S. headquarters from California to Boca Raton and create 100 jobs over the next two years was first reported in January. Scott's office issued a news release on two other deals featuring Canadian companies: Toronto Sky Aviation coming to Opa-Locka (just five jobs, aiming for up to 100) and UCC Steelwork Connections opening what it calls a "stocking location" in Tampa (two jobs, aiming for 10).

"With three jobs announcements in one week, Florida is clearly on the right path," Scott said. Maybe so, but not one of the three companies behind such modest job plans said Scott factored much, if at all, in expansion decisions.

While such incremental employment gains get the spotlight, cuts of far larger and, in some cases, higher wage jobs were unveiled this month at Angstrom Graphics (161 jobs cut) in Hollywood, Brandon Honda (94 jobs cut) in Tampa, and Kaplan University (137 jobs cut) in Fort Lauderdale, among others.

Scott's campaign promise of 700,000 jobs in seven years may happen. But it won't send much of a prosperity message if many thousands of better-paying Florida jobs end up lost in the same period.

Still, there's room for hope.

Scott took his trade mission to Montreal and Toronto last week accompanied by economic development officials from Florida's major metro areas. Some officials, traveling with Scott for the first time, did not know what to expect from the new governor.

What they got was a governor who proved willing to roll up his sleeves and work with them in the recruiting effort. The mission was a focused, busy schedule of visits from Canadian companies screened by Enterprise Florida as serious candidates, from aerospace to IT, to expand in the Sunshine State.

Area economic development leaders on the trade mission included Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Stuart Rogel and Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Keith Norden. Expansions from such trips tend to be small in size at first, said Norden. But some grow. A tech company, he said, offering no name, is the most likely company to expand to Tampa, if a deal can be assembled.

Needless to say, Rogel said there was a kinship with Montreal executives who love hockey and follow such Canadian stars as Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. At least three Montreal firms are looking at Tampa Bay for expansion, Rogel said.

"This was one of the more promising missions," said Rogel. He said Scott was closely involved and asked sharp questions during many business discussions.

Amid so much bad publicity over Scott, it's a small but promising sign that when it comes to jobs, he's willing to sweat some of the details. That's what it's going to take.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Amid bad publicity over job hype, don't count Scott out just yet 06/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 10:24am]
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