Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

State list of business incentives, released in error, may make Florida more accountable with tax dollars

What should we make of the contents of a mistakenly released database of state incentive packages created to lure hundreds of businesses and produce more than 32,000 jobs in 39 of Florida's 67 counties?

Disclosed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the database reveals nearly 270 deals totaling $155 million since the start of 2011. Some deals the state tried to close but could not. Others it completed. And, here is the sensitive part, several dozen are still in negotiations.

Florida talks a good game about recruiting new businesses. In reality, it's often criticized for lagging behind other states that demand better accountability about all those tax dollars handed out as business incentives. That's the key finding in a recent report from the Pew Center on the States. It says Florida is the largest among 25 states that has "not taken the basic steps needed to know whether their incentives are effective."

Now that it is public, this database may let Floridians better judge how well state officials manage tax incentives.

My take? The often out-of-the-public-view process of getting companies to expand here with state incentives turns out to be an incremental game.

If Florida is trying to add 32,000-plus jobs in about 270 deals, that's an average of less than 120 new jobs per incentive package. (As perspective, about 800,000 Floridians are still unemployed these days.)

Few companies identified in the database are moving their headquarters to Florida, if indeed the firms decide to come at all. Those that are opening HQs here are small with names few have heard of. There are no blockbuster deals listed.

Combined, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco captured about 17 percent of the $155 million. That translates to just over $26 million in 30 separate awards to attract as many as 5,300-plus jobs in the three-county area. That's a reasonable if not stellar piece of the statewide total.

In comparison, Brevard County on Florida's east coast managed to attract nearly 20 percent of the total. That amounts to more than $30 million in 32 state incentive deals to create more than 4,300 jobs over the same period. Most of those Brevard deals involve aviation companies like Embraer and Boeing.

Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco each made the top 10 Florida counties ranked by incentive dollars. Hillsborough's largest incentive package of $2.65 million backfired after the Ybor City cloud computing start-up Savtira Corp. lost investor trust and landed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. We'll see if new backing of Savtira from well known area investor Kiran Patel can revive any of that now-canceled incentive package.

Meanwhile, Pasco patiently waves millions in incentives at St. Petersburg's Raymond James Financial to expand in Wesley Chapel. And in Pinellas, two incentive deals topping $2 million apiece aim to lure jobs from defense giant Lockheed Martin and Florida firm Cool Sound Industries, which uses sound technology as a green way to provide air conditioning.

If they come, those jobs average $56,000 and $44,388, respectively.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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