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Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis recommends Port Tampa Bay's Jamal Sowell to head Enterprise Florida

Jamal Sowell, the chief of staff at Port Tampa Bay, has been recommended by Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis to be president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s business recruitment agency. (Photo courtesy Port Tampa Bay)
Published Dec. 14, 2018

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis wants Jamal Sowell, the chief of staff at Port Tampa Bay, to head Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership that operates as the state's corporate recruitment agency.

Enterprise Florida's board would have to approve Sowell, 36, who lives in St. Petersburg, as its president and chief executive officer. He would take over for interim president Mike Grissom, who was appointed earlier this month after Gov. Rick Scott put Enterprise Florida president Pete Antonacci in the job of elections supervisor for Broward County.

BACKGROUND: Enterprise Florida names Mike Grissom interim leader (again)

"Jamal Sowell is a person of integrity who has served his country and now has successfully helped to lead and grow Port Tampa Bay, one of the largest economic engines in the region," DeSantis said in announcing his recommendation Thursday. "I know he will bring his acumen to the department, will keep our state competitive and ensure the workforce has opportunities."

Created by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, Enterprise Florida has endured a couple rugged years, even though it's been a favorite agency for Scott. In 2016, lawmakers rejected Scott's $250 million request to help Enterprise Florida attract new businesses to the state. At one point in 2017, the Republican-led House of Representatives even voted to abolish the agency. Along the way, Enterprise Florida has had to cope with turnover in its top office.

A sixth-generation Floridian, Sowell's profile has risen steadily since his days at the University of Florida, where he was student body president and a member of the university's board of trustees.

In his first year of graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he enlisted as a private first class in the Marine Corps reserves while simultaneously completing his master's degree in education. He served in Afghanistan and completed his time in the corps as a captain.

After serving in Afghanistan, Sowell worked as a special assistant to Bernie Machen, then the president of the University of Florida. He has a law degree and a graduate certificate in the rule of law and constitutional design from Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law, where he was a Pat Tillman Scholar. While serving as governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence appointed Sowell to a state board regulating health facility administrators.

Sowell has worked at the port since 2017. There, he coordinates the operations of the president's office, assists the executive team with public affairs involving the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the state, and serves as a liaison to the governor's office and state executive branch. Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson said in a statement that Sowell has "a remarkable ability to engage the public and connect with people."

DeSantis also announced that Ken Lawson, formerly the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and president of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency, would become executive director of the state's Department of Economic Opportunity.

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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