Friday, May 25, 2018
Business

Mistakenly released database reveals that Florida has pledged nearly $155 million in incentives to create jobs

Since January 2011, Florida has pledged nearly $155 million in tax breaks and other incentives to companies promising to create jobs in the state.

Among the biggest corporate winners: Embraer Aircraft Holding, Raymond James Financial, the Boeing Co. and Bi-Lo LLC, the new owner of Winn-Dixie Stores.

The pledges came with promises to create up to 32,570 jobs, according to a database from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The recently released database revealed some recipients whose names the state had withheld under privacy agreements during negotiations. Typically, state officials refuse to identify companies even as they approve project incentives. Instead they wait until companies are ready to announce a relocation or expansion.

The list revealed, for instance, that CBS Corporate Services is the mystery company in line to receive an incentive package worth $1.05 million for creating up to 150 jobs by moving some of its information technology operations to St. Petersburg.

Some recipients are in line for even greater financial incentives if they add more jobs, according to the list. Officials, for example, had already announced that Embraer will get $6 million in incentives if it brings 200 jobs to a new tech center in Brevard County. The list, however, indicates the aircraft company stands to reap another $8 million in incentives through a separate deal if it creates another 450 jobs in Brevard.

The $8 million package, if it materializes, would be the single biggest corporate incentive award since Rick Scott became governor.

Embraer spokesman Bob Stangerone said via email late Friday that no project creating an additional 450 jobs has been announced. The only Brevard County project among Embraer's recent press releases was a March announcement detailing the planned 200 jobs.

Reached Friday afternoon, Gray Swoope, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state's primary economic development group, said the database released by DEO mistakenly included information about 80 deals that are still under confidentiality agreements. The entire list covers almost 270 deals.

Swoope declined to discuss which projects may be covered by confidentiality laws, but he said he was concerned that those company names had become public.

"I'm worried first and foremost about my state's ability to compete when word gets out that we breached the confidentiality of that company," he said.

The state inadvertently included the confidential material in a database it sent to Integrity Florida, a new nonprofit research group focused on ethics reform. Integrity Florida provided the information to the First Amendment Foundation, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that promotes open government. The First Amendment Foundation sent it to several news organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times.

In the Tampa Bay area, the state has pledged $26.4 million in incentives to 24 applicants who in return agreed to create 5,316 jobs. In many cases, local governments have pledged additional funds or tax breaks. Currently, companies are only eligible for the state incentives after they fulfill their job creation promises, which can take years.

Raymond James Financial, the St. Petersburg financial services conglomerate angling for a major expansion in Pasco County, accounts for $6.25 million in awards: $4.5 million through the governor's quick action closing fund (750 jobs) and $1.75 million through the qualified targeted industry fund (350 jobs). Pasco County has also applied for $4 million in state incentives related to the deal.

Raymond James spokesman Steve Hollister said he is only aware of plans to add a maximum of 750 jobs in building a pair of office towers in Pasco County's Wesley Chapel area.

The spreadsheet indicates that by far the biggest winner statewide are companies adding jobs in Brevard County, which has received some $31 million in awards, or about 20 percent of the total. In addition to Embraer, Boeing and Harris Corp. were both approved for multimillion dollar incentives.

The second-largest single award was set aside for a deal that never materialized: a $6.9 million package intended to lure the headquarters of banana kingpin Chiquita Brands International to Palm Beach County. The company wound up moving its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte, which offered more than $22 million in state and local incentives.

"I want to win every deal, but at the end of the day it has to be good for the taxpayers and good for the company," Swoope said.

Overall, he said, the state exceeded its goal to retain or create 20,000 jobs in the fiscal year that ends June 30. "The previous year, they actually didn't hit their fiscal goal," he said.

If history is a guide, many of the jobs detailed in the new list may not materialize.

A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald analysis late last year showed that state officials have signed contracts worth $1.7 billion in incentives since 1995, but only one-third of those jobs had been filled.

One recent example in the bay area: Last summer, the state set aside $2.65 million for Tampa tech company Savtira Corp. to create 265 jobs in Hillsborough County. That project, however, has since been categorized as "pending vacated" in the wake of Savtira's bankruptcy reorganization filing.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected]

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