When Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, John Anderson became a sort of Red Cross for the region's business community.
Anderson, then head of Dade County's economic development, took only days to line up $10-million in state loans and 1,000 free computers from IBM. He even convinced the makers of Bacardi to start a day-care center to tend to toddlers while their business-owner parents got back to work.
"Every hour and minute counted," said Anderson, who likened the storm-ravaged area to photos of Hiroshima. "If we didn't get proper help to (small businesses) in time we were going to lose them."
The response plan engineered by Anderson is credited with saving many businesses and has won national kudos for the Dade County economic development group, known as the Beacon Council. Other cities, including some in earthquake-prone California, have adopted his plan as a model emergency response for businesses, a sector often overlooked in disaster planning.
Now the 57-year-old former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer has to apply that same energy to a different mission: economic development in Florida.
As head of Orlando-based Enterprise Florida, Anderson has to figure out how to transform the state's public economic development agency into a quasi-private business. Earlier this year, Florida became the first state to abolish its commerce department and transfer its functions _ and much of its funding _ to a public-private partnership.
Suddenly, Enterprise Florida has responsibility for some $90-million in public funds. Cynical taxpayers want better jobs for their investment. Private businesses, which are expected to pump millions of matching dollars into the operation, expect results as well. They want better infrastructure, faster and easier permitting processes and other business-friendly incentives.
Florida is often given a poor review because it lacks a track record for recruiting high-paying industries, such as auto plants that have opted to go to the Carolinas or Tennessee. Instead, Florida gets more than its share of lower-paying service jobs.
In a report card released earlier this month by a Washington, D.C., non-profit economic development group, Florida scored well in job growth and business creation, but ranked poorly in categories that reflect job quality. The state scored below average in high school graduation rates, average pay and numbers of Ph.D. scientists and engineers in the work force.
A veteran of economic development in four states, Anderson figures he can once again create a national model, just like he did in South Florida.
Anderson has "an opportunity to develop a new paradigm for economic development in the United States," said Allen Lastinger, president of Barnett Banks Inc. and a member of the board of Enterprise Florida since its inception in 1992. "We have attracted the attention of a lot of other states."
Anderson has been in the hot seat before. While still in his 20s, he moved to Seattle to join the Boeing Co. He hadn't been there long before the giant aircraft manufacturer embarked on a wrenching downsizing that sent the already fragile Washington economy into a tailspin in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Anderson was assigned to a company task force to raise revenues and cut costs. "I got to learn from the very senior people, including the chairman of the company . . . what they did and how they acted under fire," he recalled. "Everyone understood what was at stake . . . the survival of the company, jobs, the community."
The government pulled the plug on the Supersonic Transport and ended the Apollo program, two mainstays of Boeing. The company struggled to convert defense technology to civilian technology. More than 65,000 workers lost their jobs, prompting a group of laid-off engineers to buy a billboard asking, "Will the last person out of town turn out the lights?"
It was during this dark time in the region's economy that Anderson discovered his calling.
"It became clear that Boeing would ultimately survive, but that the rest of the Northwest was going to have a hard time coming back," he said.
Although he survived the downsizing, Anderson left Boeing and helped create one of the nation's earliest private, not-for-profit economic development consulting groups. Eventually, he became head of international trade for Washington.
He was lured to neighboring Oregon to head up that state's economic development efforts. The region's economy was still in a recession, and states increasingly were looking to the Pacific Rim for business possibilities.
Under Anderson's leadership, Oregon landed some international high-technology companies, including NEC Corp., Intel Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. They formed the roots of what was later dubbed the Silicon Forest.
In 1984, newly elected Gov. Booth Gardner personally recruited Anderson back to Washington. During Anderson's five years as director of the Department of Trade and Economic Development, Washington attracted Sharp Corp. and Kyocera Corp., among others.
By then, Anderson's reputation as a turnaround specialist for ailing state economies was sealed. He was recruited to Texas, a state reeling from troubles in the oil fields and the savings and loan industry. He was named acting director of the commerce department after a series of scandals led to the departure of several senior officials. He launched an aggressive cleanup campaign. One afternoon, he fired 17 senior managers who were tainted by the scandal.
He left the job in 1991 when a new governor came into office. Anderson was at a crossroads. He and his second wife, Margaret Megee, considered chucking their careers to work for one of the Native American tribal councils. Anderson had worked with reservations while in the Northwest and was aware of their need for economic development. Megee, who is part Apache, also has experience in economic development.
But a determined recruiting effort by Miami consultant John Mestepey derailed those plans. Mestepey, who was retained by the Beacon Council, was not deterred by Anderson's initial response of "You've got to be kidding" when asked if he would come to Miami.
"We were looking at going to a reservation and being poor and this was so far from it," Anderson said.
Still, he was intrigued by the challenges in Miami, and accepted the job. Megee took a position as vice president of marketing for the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. She has since been named senior director of marketing for Orlando's Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
Anderson knew his biggest challenge in Miami would be one that is echoed throughout the state: unifying the diverse racial, ethnic, geographic and economic interests.
Anderson implemented changes both internally and externally to make the Beacon Council more reflective of its constituency.
He introduced the concept of Team Miami in an attempt to unify interests that were more accustomed to butting heads than cooperating. The idea was to create ad hoc groups for specific projects. When the task was done, the team disbanded.
One team worked for years on Miami's ultimately successful bid to entice the U.S. Southern Command from Panama to Miami. More than 70 American communities wanted the more than 800 jobs that came with the relocation. Another team was instrumental in attracting the 1994 Summit of the Americas, an international trade conference. Still another worked on convincing the federal government to keep Homestead Air Force Base open after it had been marked for closure.
Anderson is attempting to replicate the Team Miami approach as he faces a challenge even bigger than than unifying Dade County: unifying Florida's highly fragmented and parochial economic development interests. He already has formed seven task forces to address specific issues facing Enterprise Florida.
Florida's problems have a familiar ring to Anderson. Like Washington, which was heavily dependent on aerospace, timber and shipping, Florida depends on a few industries, notably tourism, services and defense. Florida is also well-situated geographically for international trade. And, like Washington, Florida's weather and natural resources make it an appealing place to be.
Both states are home to diverse economies and interests that compete with one another for attention and dollars. Any one of them might feel slighted by efforts to encourage relocation of certain industries or types of jobs.
For example, Anderson's success in recruiting high-tech jobs to Washington left the state's existing and rural industries feeling slighted, according to Jim Kneeland, former press secretary for Gov. Gardner and now a publicist in Seattle.
"We have a high-tech corridor in the southern end of the state and I think John can take a significant amount of credit for enhancing the development of that corridor," Kneeland said. "But other areas, such as the resource-based areas, felt they weren't getting enough attention."
Anderson says that perception has a lot to do with the publicity surrounding these relocations. They create relatively skilled, high-paying jobs and "clean" industry. The competition for these high-tech companies is "like watching a war. The stakes are enormous," he said.
"But we spent fully half of our resources dealing with existing business needs." That's what he plans to do at Enterprise Florida.
Before Enterprise Florida can even focus on its main objective of developing the state's economy, it must complete a massive laundry list of administrative tasks.
For starters, the group must develop a strategic plan for Florida, built around the findings of an image study conducted last year. The study assessed the perceptions business executives, relocation specialists and the business press have of Florida as a place to do business.
Published in February, the image study found many of the perceptions that were later echoed in the report card issued by the Washington, D.C., group.
Florida's strengths are its natural resources, low costs and quality of life. But it needs to create a high-value environment to attract and keep businesses. That means improving the quality of the work force and the incentives to business, among other things.
Time will tell if Enterprise Florida will become a model for others to follow.
"We are going to be held to a higher standard of accountability," Anderson said. "I believe it goes with the territory, and we will do it."
AT A GLANCE
Enterprise Florida is a public-private organization responsible for statewide economic development. It receives $15-million from the state and administers or has recommendation authority for another $75-million of public money. So far, it also has private commitments of $600,000.
ENTERPRISE FLORIDA'S JOHN C. ANDERSON
TITLE: President and chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida Inc.
EDUCATION: University of Utah, majored in political science. Kennedy School Senior Executive Program, Harvard University.
1991-1995: President and CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami.
1990-1991: Acting director and director of business development for the Texas Department of Commerce.
1985-1990: Director of Washington's Department of Trade and Economic Development.
1983-1985: Director of Oregon's Economic Development Department.
Married to Margaret Megee, former head of the Texas Department of Tourism and now senior marketing director for Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau. ... Has two sons, a daughter, a stepson and a grandson. ... Enjoys skiing, sailing and mountain climbing.
THE TURNING POINT
In 1991, Anderson and wife Margaret were on the verge of leaving their high-powered careers behind to work for a Native American tribal council on a reservation. Persistent recruiting by a Miami consultant lured them to South Florida instead. Their altruistic plans are on hold.
A survey commissioned by the state Department of Commerce and economic development groups statewide asked corporate executives, site selection consultants and members of the business media about their perceptions of Florida as a place to do business. The findings in the Florida Business Image Study will be the foundation of Enterprise Florida's strategic plan.
Overall quality of life.
Efficient transportation systems.
Availability of managerial and professional workers.
Competitive overall operating costs.
Low cost occupancy/construction costs.
Uncompetitive state and local incentives and tax exemptions.
Slow permitting processes.
Lacks sufficient pool of skilled workers.
Lacks high-quality work force.
Not close to customers and clients.
WHAT SHOULD FLORIDA DO?
Enhance the state's competitiveness by improving the product. In other words, fix the things that can be fixed.
Aggressively market the things that are right about Florida and sound the trumpets when things are improved.
Source: Development Counsellors International and the Gallup Organization (DCI/Gallup), Times research