Be it Alex Sink or Rick Scott, our next chief of state must also be chief economic salesperson.
Both candidates for governor swear they will parade Florida's virtues before the business world. But it's not enough.
This state will sorely lag the nation's economic rebound. It desperately needs its next governor to be a hands-on, nitty-gritty, knock-on-doors, cold-calling fiend. That governor must be the state's in-your-face, follow-up, never-say-no deal clincher when it comes to attracting new or expanding existing businesses here.
Not only because Florida's economy has slowed to a crawl and must be resuscitated. But, equally as important, other states deemed supreme in this country for their business climate already boast histories of intimately involved, gung-ho business governors.
Exhibit 1 is North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue. Remarkably, for the ninth time in 10 years, North Carolina is No. 1 nationwide in a measure of states' business climates. So says the well-regarded Site Selection magazine annual survey, unveiled Monday. And a big reason North Carolina again dominated the survey is that Perdue, since taking office in 2009, has continued the Tar Heel State mantra of aggressively selling her state to the business world.
Florida ranked 14th. We can learn something from a state that's topped the charts this decade every year but once.
"People across the state and many businesses around the country know that I'll take any call and go anywhere to bring a business to our state or expand a business or create a small business in North Carolina," Perdue told Site Selection.
Perhaps Florida's recent governors assumed pressing the flesh or slapping the back of visiting CEOs pondering a move to the Sunshine State was good-enough salesmanship. After all, before this recession, Florida was an economic rocket ship with unemployment under 4 percent. Those pesky recruiting details could be left to Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm.
That's old-school thinking.
"States where the governor is pro-business and very engaged … those states do well," said Site Selection editor in chief Mark Arend. "It sends a signal to the business community that a state is eager for their investment."
Current Gov. Charlie Crist said the right things early in his term about building Florida's alternative energy industry and recruiting businesses here to make it happen. But Crist got distracted. Or perhaps the crushing recession sapped the momentum out of his onetime quest for alternative energy in Florida's future.
In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush made his now-legendary solo sales pitch to California's Scripps Research Institute to expand its high-end, biotech capabilities into Florida. That Bush was governor while his brother was president added to the deal's allure. So did a federal, state and local incentive package that approached half a billion dollars — an astronomical sum that Bush waved at Scripps.
Scripps took the deal and opened a facility on Florida's east coast. Other hotshot biotech research firms followed. Nobody seems to be complaining much anymore about the pricey incentives that triggered a biotech burst in the state.
The good news is that both Sink and Scott get it. But who's got the hotter fire in the belly to get out there and sell?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.