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Florida agency reviewing incentive awards to see if businesses are creating promised jobs

TALLAHASSEE — The head of Florida's new economic development agency said he is reviewing millions of dollars in cash incentives the state has given out in recent years and will recommend taking action against businesses not fulfilling their contracts.

"Some of them are egregious," said Doug Darling, director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Before the department opened Monday, it released a report showing just 71 percent of the 729 tax-incentive contracts the state had signed in the past decade were fulfilled.

This year, those contracts and incentives are supposed to bring 9,311 jobs from companies recruited to Florida. Existing companies in the state are under contract to create 10,274 more jobs through expansion.

Lawmakers put $93 million into job-incentive programs this year, a fraction of the $300 million Gov. Rick Scott requested.

Some legislators have grown wary of giving cash incentives to companies, particularly when public schools and programs for the sick and poor face cuts.

"Where we fail is not incentives," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. "If you don't have good roads or good schools, (businesses) are not going to come."

Darling appeared before the committee Tuesday with the department's glossy "business plan" and a colorful PowerPoint presentation of how the Agency for Workforce Innovation, the Office for Tourism, Trade & Economic Development, and the Department of Community Affairs have been merged.

But a trio of veteran Central Florida Republicans on the committee quickly took issue with the new agency.

Detert said simply changing the name would not help 1 million out-of-work Floridians find a job.

"We've heard the happy story before," Detert said. "We just want to make sure our dollars go to what they're supposed to go for. We're in a crisis."

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said cash incentives create "winners and losers" in the market.

"When you reward someone for coming here, you're punishing the people who are already here," she said. Dockery said an insurance company that received state incentives and located in Lakeland used the money to hire employees away from other local businesses.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said the state has been promising to fast-track permitting for new companies since she won her first state legislative office 17 years ago, yet she still has "depressed areas" in her district.

Lynn said the state must hold companies accountable that receive any state help.

Darling assured the committee that he was not going to give away the state.

"We're not going to pave over Lake Okeechobee for a strip mall," Darling said. "The answer is no."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Florida agency reviewing incentive awards to see if businesses are creating promised jobs 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 9:07pm]
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