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More tax dollars to win lower-wage jobs is losing game for Florida

Wouldn't it be great to be an economic development consultant?

You could tell Florida how to boost its economy. It's easy. Just hand out lots more tax dollars up front to recruit companies. And lower the state's already meager wage requirements for jobs those companies might create here.

You could call your report Desperate Florida: Wasting Tax Dollars, Underpaying Residents and Giving Up On Raising the Economic Bar.

Except a consultant is pretty much already telling Florida that's the way to go in a new study titled Helping Companies Decide Where to Build.

"Florida is not on most company's (sic) radar as a viable business location," concludes a 178-page competitive study issued by consulting firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, S.C. "Florida is seen as a great vacation place, but not as a place to do business."

Apparently we're not productive enough. Too busy working on our golf or cowering from hurricanes, I guess.

Wow. That assessment is either a harsh economic reality check for Florida or a cold shower for Gov. Rick Scott, who's convinced Florida is a marvelous place to do business and add "jobs, jobs, jobs."

McCallum Sweeney consultant Mark Sweeney last week told Enterprise Florida, the state's job-creation agency, that if this state gives companies more tax dollars at the start and lets them hire Floridians for less (not more) than the state's average wage, then businesses will come.

Currently, Florida tries to give more financial incentives on the back end, after a company relocates here and after it creates jobs that pay above Florida's median wage.

Sweeney's recommendations to pay more up front and pay lower wages are fine — as long as adding cheaper jobs is really Florida's economic end game. Just follow the logic of Florida bulking up on jobs that, say, pay between $25,000 to $42,000. Eventually Florida is full of people with low-paying jobs who can't afford much beyond basic housing, cable TV and a bus commute.

For that bit of backward wisdom, the consulting firm (with a few others in tow) was paid $105,000 by the big electric utilities in Florida, including Progress Energy, TECO Energy, Seminole Electric and Florida Power & Light.

Granted, the lengthy study makes other suggestions. Some of them, like ending a state tax on commercial leases, might make sense. But the crux of this study says Florida can become more competitive by waving more tax dollars and a cheaper workforce at corporations.

What's so confounding is this strategy seems to contradict the focus of regional and state economic development groups eager to create better-paying jobs with better-educated workers.

I wonder if Enterprise Florida hired these out-of-state consultants because nobody in Florida would ever conjure up recommendations so poor for Florida's long-term future.

If all Florida wants is to recruit businesses here with no further regard for economic consequences, then Tallahassee should simply rubber stamp this study.

Better yet, whatever Sweeney's firm says, why not double the up-front tax dollars to businesses? And tell companies they need only pay all Floridians minimum wage.

We'll have businesses stumbling over one another to set up operations in Florida. Then we can all celebrate Florida's low jobless rate as our standard of living drops and talented workers flee.

Florida's future is not about subsidizing lower-pay jobs with even more tax dollars. We can do better than this.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

More tax dollars to win lower-wage jobs is losing game for Florida 10/29/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 29, 2012 10:36pm]
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