Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Circus magic? After layoffs, Ringling company vies for millions in job creation

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train cars at the headquarters of parent company Feld Entertainment. The company is closing the circus in May, bringing to an end its 145-year run. Because the company considers 400 of the jobs it is eliminating to be "based on the road", part of the traveling circuit, they're not technically Florida jobs. Therefore, company officials say, Feld still qualifies for millions in job creation incentives paid by the state and local governments. [Tampa Bay Times]
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train cars at the headquarters of parent company Feld Entertainment. The company is closing the circus in May, bringing to an end its 145-year run. Because the company considers 400 of the jobs it is eliminating to be "based on the road", part of the traveling circuit, they're not technically Florida jobs. Therefore, company officials say, Feld still qualifies for millions in job creation incentives paid by the state and local governments. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 25, 2017

TALLAHASSEE

The parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey can still collect up to $3.7 million from state and local government for job creation even after announcing one of the state's largest layoffs since 2015.

Feld Entertainment's "The Greatest Show on Earth" will take a final bow in May that will cost 462 people — including dozens of Floridians — their jobs. Out of the nearly 200 companies that have announced layoffs in Florida the past two years, Feld's will be the sixth largest.

Despite the cutback, Feld will continue to collect millions for job creation because the company classifies 400 of the lost jobs as "based on the road."

These are touring jobs. Even though many who hold the jobs live in Florida, the jobs themselves are on the road for nearly the entire year.

"They are not Florida-based jobs and therefore do not count as part of the incentive calculation," said Casey Rodgers, vice president of Financial and Strategic Planning for Feld Entertainment.

If the lost jobs did count against the agreements, company officials said, they would be outweighed by all the other new jobs they are creating.

"Feld Entertainment will hit all of their job-creation goals, as outlined in our agreement," said Stephen Yaros, senior vice president of global public relations for Feld Entertainment Inc. "We are currently creating more jobs at a faster pace and at a higher average wage than anticipated."

Besides Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Feld's brands include Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, Monster Energy AMA Supercross and Marvel Universe Live.

According to the standard applied to the circus, many of these jobs are also based on the road and wouldn't qualify for incentives either.

"When we created Marvel Universe Live in 2014, we created 100 jobs, but those didn't count for us. Those were touring jobs," Rodgers said. "What the state wants to see are jobs where the people are going to be spending the vast majority of their salary in the state of Florida, someone who is going to buy a house here, a car here, spend all their restaurant budget here."

The jobs that do count, Rodgers said, are in accounting, finance, sales, marketing, benefits, insurance and computer services at the company's Ellenton headquarters. There is also a core group that works on costuming, mechanics and set work that is done and then shipped out to the nearly two dozen touring shows under Feld's entertainment umbrella.

Those who work with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus crisscross the country for 11 months a year on a mile-long train that carries not just the performers but also the animals, their feed and a 24-hour dining operation called the Pie Car. Children go to school on the train and there is a day care operation. They are housed in cars set up like efficiency apartments. Electricians, mechanics and animal tenders are on board to keep things running.

Other touring shows, such as Disney on Ice or the Marvel show, travel about nine months a year, putting their sets on 53-foot semitrailer trucks with the performers staying in hotels while on tour.

State officials say they will scrutinize Feld's job-creation claims — and the Ringling reductions — just like they do on all job incentive funds. But such a review could take years. When a company reports its job-creation numbers, the state has independent auditors analyze the figures to make sure the state got the promised jobs, said Morgan L. McCord, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

State officials verified that Feld created 184 state jobs through 2014. Feld said it reported hitting 563 at the end of 2015, but state officials said they are still verifying those numbers.

Feld has collected about $1 million from the state so far. Additional payments hinge on proving job-creation numbers. If goals aren't met, McCord said, the state would stop paying and could even claw back previous payments, as it has done in 30 other cases.

Gov. Rick Scott has worked to reform job incentives to make sure only companies that create them get funding, said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott.

"To compete and win in a national and international market, Florida must use every available tool, including economic incentives, to bring jobs home for those who need a job the most," Lewis said.

The state Legislature has been skeptical. Last year Scott asked for $250 million in incentives. Lawmakers refused to give him anything. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has called incentives "corporate welfare."

Corcoran said Feld's situation is just another example of how the incentives don't really work. Some companies don't deliver on the jobs, some create shell games and others simply fail to produce the return on investment promised.

"The more scrutiny the job incentive programs get, the more you're going to see they don't work," Corcoran said.

The jobs the state is getting Feld to promise are far from durable.

Take the first of two deals. Signed in 2011, it called for Feld to move 235 jobs from its former Virginia headquarters to Ellenton. The agreement didn't say whether those jobs needed to be new — or merely exported from Virginia. Those jobs were to be added to 148 that already existed in Manatee County. Combined, the 383 jobs were required to pay an average $66,000 wage and were supposed to exist only through Dec. 31, 2019.

In exchange, the company gets $1.8 million from the state.

Feld's second deal was signed in 2015. This time, the company agreed to move its motor sports division from Illinois to Ellenton and create 200 jobs by the end of 2019 with an average wage of $72,000. In return, the company would get $1.4 million.

Local governments agreed to pay an additional $500,000 of incentives.

Feld's Ellenton headquarters opened in 2013 in a complex that includes a single building that is second only to NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building in size in Florida.

The $8.35 million complex houses a "graveyard" of monster trucks, a field of billboards, circus trains in various stages of rehab and repair, and thousands of glittery costumes that date to the 1970s. There are two dozen Monster Jam trucks, each worth about $300,000. There's room for two full NHL-sized rinks in operation at the same time for Disney ice shows to practice. Then there are racks upon racks of more than 10,000 bedazzled costumes with dozens of crates of dancing shoes, feathered headdresses and show hats tended to by a crew of milliners and tailors.

Chris Hudson, of Americans for Prosperity of Florida, said he doesn't blame businesses for taking the money, but says the government shouldn't be offering.

"It's outside of what government should be doing," Hudson said.

Florida State University economics professor Shawn Kantor was even more blunt about corporate job incentive money during a recent testimony in the Florida House.

"I'm not convinced they provide any benefit at all to the economy," Kantor said.

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampbay.com. Follow @JeremySWallace.

CHRIS URSO | Times

The greatest show on earth's last shows in Tampa

Kristen Michelle Wilson, the first female ringmaster of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, performs alongside others for a select group of Patel Conservatory students and outreach partners Tuesday in Tampa. Hear Wilson discuss her history-making role and what the experience has meant to her at tampabay.com/video.