Gov. Rick Scott's 2010 campaign promise to create jobs was compelling to many voters because of its simplicity: 700,000 new jobs in seven years. But three years into Scott's tenure, an analysis from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald reveals he has been more successful winning promises for jobs some future day in return for tax breaks than actually creating jobs. Just a tiny fraction of the new jobs Scott boasts about have materialized, while exponentially more private sector jobs have been lost. The governor's never-ending self-promotion campaign does not reflect Florida's economic reality.
The facts reflect the complexity of the economy and the error in the governor's obsession on one narrow approach to improve it. Scott always makes time for another ribbon-cutting announcement, another call to an out-of-state CEO, or another appearance on conservative news outlets to tout his jobs efforts. But he fails to pay close attention to public schools, aggressively push for expanding health care access to uninsured Floridians, address the rising cost of utilities and property insurance, or show any interest in protecting the environment. Employers need more than a future tax break to see a future in expanding here. They also want a state that invests in its people, its public institutions and its long-term future.
Just four jobs have been created in Florida for every 100 that have been promised under the state's 342 job-creation deals signed since Scott took office in January 2011. That's what the staff of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau discovered after spending six months poring over public records of the tax-incentive deals, making site visits and conducting interviews. Of the 45,258 jobs promised in the deals, only 1,939 have been created. Of the $266 million that state and local governments have earmarked for the deals, $22 million has been spent.
In Tampa Bay, just 462 of the 7,251 promised jobs have been created. Nobody keeps a job for long in the major leagues with an .064 batting average.
Scott is unconcerned. The first-term Republican says these things take time. And Gray Swoope, Scott's hand-picked head of Enterprise Florida, acknowledges there will be some failures, such as the highly publicized $250,000 taxpayer investment in rehabilitating a warehouse in Osceola County. Announced in 2011, two years later Colt Manufacturing Co. has yet to show up and the deal expires Dec. 30 unless it has eight employees there. The deal was supposed to eventually lead to 63 jobs and a "$2.5 million commitment" in exchange for other tax breaks. Now the best local leaders can hope is that the taxpayer-financed renovation will attract another business to the facility.
Economists say none of this should be a surprise. Scott's assertions on the campaign trail that he could grow jobs by transforming the governor's office into the state's recruiter in chief has always been suspect because so many more factors affect where companies decide to locate or expand. Left unsaid in Scott's flood of announcements headlined "What's working today" is that over the same period the Florida economy lost more than 1 million private sector jobs and fewer businesses expanded between January 2011 and December 2012 than between 2009-10, the Times/Herald staff found.
The upshot: Just like the national economy, Florida's recovery is mixed despite Scott's rose-colored releases. Even more concerning, it's losing ground in the national competition to attract jobs when it comes to education, cost of living and protecting natural resources — all areas where a governor can lead but that Scott has largely ignored. Scott has 11 months before the election to produce more concrete results. Then voters can decide whether such a narrow-minded approach and unfulfilled promises are good enough, or whether they want a broader perspective and better results from their governor.