Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rick Scott's troubled jobs agency taps former Tampa rep as new leader

The embattled agency that Gov. Rick Scott relies on for job creation chose its new leader Wednesday.

Enterprise Florida agreed to hire former Tampa state Rep. Chris Hart IV to run the quasi-governmental agency that oversees the recruiting of businesses during a two-hour meeting attended by Scott.

Hart, 48, has run the state's job training development agency, CareerSource Florida under Scott and prior to that he was the interim director of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under former Gov. Charlie Crist from Jan. 2010 to early 2011. A Republican, he was in the Florida Legislature from 1998 to 2002.

"I'd like to thank you for inviting me to be apart of this grand adventure with all of you," Hart told Enterprise Florida board members at a meeting in Miramar Beach in Northwest Florida. "What better place than Enterprise Florida to help our fellow Floridians realize their hopes and their dreams and their aspirations."

Hart's positioned was advertised as having a salary between $175,000 and $200,000.

Enterprise Florida board members are touting Hart's past as a state legislator as a sign that the agency will work better with the Florida Legislature, which gutted Scott's job incentives programs last year by refusing to give Scott any of the $250 million he requested. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Pasco County, has declared the incentive program as "corporate welfare" that conflict with his view of government's proper role.

Hart will take over an Enterprise Florida that is still paying for issues left over from former CEO Bill Johnson. Enterprise Florida announced this week it had spent $107,000 since June on an outside accounting and management firm that specializes in taking on "distressed situations" and "helps clean things up." Another $10,000 might still need to go to that company, CFO Strategic Partners in Orlando, before they complete their task, said Rodney Ownby, vice president of accounting and finance at Enterprise Florida.

Johnson left Enterprise Florida in June after Scott unceremoniously announced months earlier that he would be "transitioning out" of the agency. Scott never said Johnson was fired, but Johnson was given a $132,400 severance package on top of his $265,000 annual salary.

As Johnson was leaving, an outside review of the agency warned that it was overspending on management, travel and lacked internal financial controls to prevent fraud. Since then, the agency has cut employees from 80 to 57, trimmed management, reduced office space and put better internal controls in place.

Despite the turmoil, Scott has been unwavering in his support of Enterprise Florida and has vowed to keep pushing the state Legislature for more money for job incentive programs — despite Corcoran's objections. Before Hart was officially hired, Scott praised Enterprise Florida for being instrumental in helping Florida add more than 1.1 million private jobs since he was elected.

"Bottom line is that it works in our state the way we are doing it," said Scott, who added that Florida has won over 500 competitive projects against other states since he took office thanks to Enterprise Florida.

Florida does not have a traditional commerce department like many other states. Instead, 20 years ago, Florida created Enterprise Florida to be quasi-governmental entity with a 64-member board of directors that runs it largely like a private business. About 90 percent of its operations are funded by taxpayers.

For much of Scott's tenure, Enterprise Florida has been a cherished organization charged with leading his efforts to recruit companies from other states and nations to move to Florida to create jobs — a central theme of Scott's 2010 and 2014 campaigns for governor.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at [email protected] Follow @JeremySWallace

Rick Scott's troubled jobs agency taps former Tampa rep as new leader 11/30/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 3:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

  2. UF president Kent Fuchs: 'Charlottesville changed everything' (w/video)


    GAINESVILLE — Wednesday evening, hazy rumors of an impending Neo-Nazi march reached some wary protesters. A few quickly rallied to denounce the marchers in downtown Gainesville, only to find plazas empty but for police.

    University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs talks with reporters Wednesday about white nationalist Richard Spencer's planned speech on Thursday. He said of Spencer: "In a small way, he is causing us to redouble our focus on supporting actions that are the opposite of what he wants." [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. Kenya vote chief says 'difficult' to have credible election


    NAIROBI, Kenya — It is "difficult to guarantee a free, fair and credible election" in Kenya's fresh presidential vote just eight days away despite "full technical preparedness," the head of the election commission said Wednesday as another wave of uncertainty swept through East Africa's largest economy.

  4. International array of artists chosen as finalists for Pier project

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — A diverse group of six artists will compete for a chance to install their work at the city's multimillion-dollar Pier District, expected to open in early 2019.

  5. Former Jabil executive's fate in hands of murder trial jury


    LARGO — For a second time, Patrick Evans' future is in the hands of a jury.

    Patrick Evans talks with Allison Miller, one of his three public defenders, before jury selection this w eek. Evans, a former Jabil executive charged with killing his estranged wife and her friend almost 10 years ago, is back in court for a second trial after his original death sentence conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times