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Gov. Rick Scott wants state Department of Commerce brought back

454,000 First-time claims for unemployment benefits nationwide last week, up 51,000 
from the week before and well above economists’ forecast of 405,000. In this photo, job seekers line up for a job fair at a hotel in Dallas this week. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, but the figures were largely distorted by snowstorms. 

Associated Press

454,000 First-time claims for unemployment benefits nationwide last week, up 51,000 from the week before and well above economists’ forecast of 405,000. In this photo, job seekers line up for a job fair at a hotel in Dallas this week. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, but the figures were largely distorted by snowstorms. 

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott proposed a new level of bureaucracy Thursday that he said would streamline economic development in the state and help deliver new jobs.

Scott called on lawmakers to re-create the Department of Commerce, which would control millions of economic incentive dollars spent each year on attracting business to the state and keeping Florida-based companies from leaving.

Scott also fired the head of one of those agencies, Enterprise Florida Inc., and set a goal of leading possibly two foreign trade missions before June.

"We are going to get to 700,000 jobs over the next seven years and I'm not going to stop until it happens," Scott said.

Scott's comments came during the annual meeting of Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private business development arm. After the meeting, Scott quietly fired the group's president, John A. Adams Jr., an Enterprise Florida spokesman confirmed. The Governor's Office gave no reason for the dismissal and did not respond to a request for how much money Adams was owed on his contract.

Scott, a former hospital executive who parlayed his wealth into an aggressive investment portfolio, wowed the group by helping run the two-hour meeting.

He also delivered a campaign-style speech heavy on promises of less taxes and fewer regulations.

"We've got to stay active every day," Scott told the business executives who account for Enterprise Florida's membership. "Because the special interests are going to be active every day."

Enterprise Florida vice chairman Hal Melton, a senior partner at the Holland & Knight law firm, could not recall another governor sitting through an entire meeting.

"There's a new sheriff in town, and things are going to be done differently," Melton said.

Noting the "expansion of economies in Central and South America" and his recent meeting with former Colombia President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Scott said he wanted to complete one or two trade missions before Enterprise Florida's next meeting on June 9.

"Everybody around the world believes we are going to be a winner," Scott said. "The election in November clearly sent a message that this state is open for business."

Scott offered few details on the structure for a new Department of Commerce.

He said the new agency would have a Capitol office "two doors" from his own and that it should control the state's multiple economic development funds, overseeing Enterprise Florida, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation and the governor's own Office of Tourism, Transportation and Economic Development.

Scott does not want to merge the three entities because he said that would jeopardize Enterprise Florida's public-private status.

Creating a new department while lawmakers are considering the consolidation of other agencies could spark concerns from the Legislature.

But Scott's broad plan was met with initial applause from his fellow Republicans running the House and Senate.

"He's trying to run Florida more like his businesses he's run in the past," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. "And we're going to give him every opportunity to make that sale."

Then-Gov. Lawton Chiles helped abolish the state Commerce Department in 1996 and split its duties among several groups, including Enterprise Florida.

"I'm looking forward to reviewing the details," House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said of Scott's plan.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptiems.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Gov. Rick Scott wants state Department of Commerce brought back 01/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 1:25pm]
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