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Florida reels in a keeper, Time Warner, as another big one quietly gets away

What one Florida business incentive giveth, another Texas business incentive taketh away.

This is a cautionary tale of two companies recruited by jobs-hungry states. One business is bringing jobs to Tampa Bay, lured by taxpayer incentives. Another's exiting our metro area, lured to Texas by — what a coincidence! — taxpayer incentives.

Florida economic development officials cheered last month's recruiting coup. Tampa Bay beat out Atlanta with an incentive-laden deal to bring Time Warner and its pledge of 500 jobs by 2016 to Hillsborough County. Those jobs will carry average salaries of $57,200.

Time Warner chief financial officer John Martin was a veritable poster child for Florida's pro-business climate. "You have created a business environment where we can feel good about investing today with an eye toward growing in the future," he said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott joked that "we only need 1,400 of these announcements" to meet his 2010 campaign promise to create 700,000 jobs in Florida within seven years.

Now let's talk about the company that got away, about the loss of jobs and a corporate headquarters nobody wants to address.

Clearwater's CCS Medical, Tampa Bay's 11th largest private company with $420 million in revenues, slipped quietly out of Florida last month and moved its headquarters to suburban Dallas.

Its pledge to Texas: 230 jobs in the next two years. Average compensation: $69,000, including benefits.

Dirk Allison, CCS Medical's CEO, says the company chose to move its headquarters to the Lone Star State because of "a superior business climate and a strong workforce."

Wait a minute. If Time Warner likes Florida's business environment enough to add hundreds of jobs here, why did CCS Medical flee Florida for the "superior" climate of Texas?

The answer is that businesses make relocation and expansion decisions based on many factors. Incentives is one. The cost of doing business is another. An area's quality of life can play a big role.

Even petty factors matter. If the CEO really likes saltwater fishing or hates snow, Tampa Bay's a winner. If he's a Cowboys fan, we may be out of luck.

Luring businesses from one state to another is a lot like musical chairs. Different businesses are sitting in new seats when the music stops. But in the big picture, did much happen to really help each economy?

To woo Time Warner, Florida offered about $3 million in state and local tax incentives.

To lure CCS, Texas committed up to $506,000 for training. And a town near Dallas called Farmers Branch, where CCS landed, will pay $250 per job for up to 150 jobs, for a maximum of $37,500.

Maybe the biggest winners are all the moving vans that ship corporate possessions back and forth. Or the office spaces that get redecorated.

In this tale, we have two places — Tampa Bay and suburban Dallas — that get to crow about their newly recruited businesses.

Maybe that's important. In this lousy economy, Florida's feel-good message — We're bringing good jobs here at a critical time with our hard work! — may boost sagging confidence and signal that we are competitive.

I must admit I felt better after hearing about the Time Warner deal and reading the headline in Atlanta's newspaper: Tampa beats Atlanta in bid for 500 Time Warner jobs.

CCS Medical's CEO has Texas roots, so he probably leaned toward pulling out of the Sunshine State. And a big investor in CCS — which makes stuff like diabetes test strips, catheters and incontinence supplies — is a firm based in Texas.

By no means is this tale meant to rain on Time Warner's arrival here. Welcome to the neighborhood, TW!

Still, economic development pep rallies can feel a bit contrived. Why is there so much celebration over one company arriving when others get conveniently ignored when they leave?

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Florida reels in a keeper, Time Warner, as another big one quietly gets away 10/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:39pm]
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