Florida could lure new jobs by expediting permitting for clean industries

Jobs, jobs, jobs. I hear that mantra from the governor on down to locally elected officials. And yet no government is streamlining the procedures that business must go through to grow or locate in Florida.

Nearly 12 percent of the working population of Florida is out of work. And among architects and engineers — some of our highest paying jobs — the jobless rate is closer to 25 percent. With unemployment at near-record levels, policymakers should review regulations to remove unnecessary barriers for new business and growth for existing businesses.

There is a way to do this surgically that is good for the economy and the environment: Target clean industries, and abolish comprehensive plan amendments and permitting requirements just for them.

As former secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs (the state's land planning agency) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (the environmental permitting agency), I understand and support the necessity of the regulations that guide the direction of our growth and protect our environment. But redundant state and local regulations can impede the growth of clean industries without providing any benefit to the environment.

In planning for new industries to locate in a community, quite frequently an amendment to the local comprehensive plan is required. And then as the industry's buildings and plants are constructed, an environmental permit from the local or state government (or both) is required.

These processes take months and sometimes years to wind their way through to approval. If we are serious about growing our own knowledge-based businesses and alternative energy and growing jobs in the process, we must find a balance that works for our people.

To create jobs but still protect our beloved environment, we should abolish Florida's duplicative comprehensive planning and permitting rules — but only temporarily and only for a business that falls within the Enterprise Florida targeted industry group and wants to grow or relocate here.

Targeted industries are clean businesses: information technology, life sciences, aviation and aerospace, financial and professional services, homeland and security defense, light manufacturing, emerging technologies and clean energy.

Planning and permitting cost money, real money. In the late 1990s, when several of our cities opted into the state's Sustainable Communities program, redundant state review was eliminated, and new vibrant cities re-emerged, thanks to dedicated city officials like Glenda Hood, then the mayor of Orlando.

Downtown Orlando became a community in which Hughes Supply, a large employer, wanted to remain. Local economic development funding was funneled into affordable housing and transit, and school dollars were directed to improve existing schools. Orlando overcame its reputation as a dying downtown.

In Miami-Dade County, the state has delegated permitting functions to the local government permitting division — Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) — again removing duplicative regulations. Their unique status makes locating commercial and industrial facilities much easier. Hence, there is consistent growth and relocation of businesses to the South Florida area.

These are only two examples of eliminating overlapping state review of local plans and permitting that have resulted in some of our most sought-after geographic areas for business growth and relocation. We have had successes in keeping industries downtown and remaking our downtowns back into live, work, play and learn locations. The same is true for rural areas.

Our rural areas are some of the hardest hit in terms of job losses and primarily rely upon farming and fishing for a living. Special programs are in place to entice businesses to locate in the rural areas. But they are not flexible. For example, one of the Florida investor-owned utilities decided to build a solar energy plant to produce clean energy from the sun in a rural county of Florida. The initial planning and permitting took nine months, and further expansion will require at least another year. This was considered "expedited" permitting!

If only the company had built the plant one county over, it would have qualified for real-world expedited permitting by being in a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern. Permits would have come in 30 to 90 days.

I can assure you that the company has paid a minimum cost of $500,000 for in-house and outside consultants to help navigate the process of planning and permitting alone. Expanding the plant to a 300-megawatt solar power plant will require the company to go through the same permitting requirements that a 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant does. That promotes the wrong message to our budding alternative energy industry.

Let's really create jobs, jobs and more jobs, and temporarily remove the barriers for the growth of clean industries in the right locations in our state.

Colleen M. Castille is managing partner for Castille & DeFoor - Go Green Strategies, consulting with businesses on how to balance economic development with Florida's environment. She is the former secretary of both the Florida Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Florida could lure new jobs by expediting permitting for clean industries 03/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 6:59pm]

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