Dockery: Why grow jobs when you can steal them?

Published March 19, 2015

Forget the charm offensive. In Gov. Rick Scott's war against other states for jobs, his strategy is more akin to the taunt offensive. As the nation is emerging from the deep recession and jobs are being created, governors have determined that luring jobs from other states is a legitimate economic development tool.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry ruffled feathers when he went after jobs in other states using radio ads, but he gained a lot of national attention for his efforts. Our governor decided he wanted to follow in Perry's footsteps.

Scott played with the idea of putting up billboards in California to try to attract some businesses to relocate. Then he sent letters to corporations in several states, including New York, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota — targeting states with Democratic governors. After all, when you attempt to steal jobs from other states it would be bad form to declare war on a fellow Republican.

Businesses do move from state to state or expand for a variety of reasons — economic incentives, demand for product or service, trained workforce, distribution system, friendly business climate, quality of life or better weather.

What are Florida's strengths? We're business-friendly; we offer generous economic incentives and we enjoy glorious weather. Is that enough to get corporations to move, and if they move will they stay or leave us for the next suitor who comes a-courting with a more generous offering?

The real question should be how do we get more and better-paying jobs in our state? Shouldn't we help existing corporations and small businesses grow and expand and assist individuals and mom and pops to start businesses here?

Or is the strategy of luring jobs from other states a good one?

The jury is still out on that. There have been a few success stories — Hertz moved its worldwide headquarters from New Jersey, and Feld Entertainment is gradually moving its global operations from Virginia.

Oops — that poaching occurred under Republican governors.

More likely these job-swiping efforts result in a corporate expansion into Florida when it fits with their business plan. A few examples are Virginia-based Northrop Grumman, Verizon and Pennsylvania-based Air Products.

Scott's first domestic trip to lure businesses from a rival state — defined as one with a Democratic governor — took place in February with a "business development mission" to Pennsylvania. The Scott camp sent out news releases, granted media interviews and did radio shows in the Keystone State and gathered a small entourage to begin his offensive. Before the trip Scott taunted the newly elected Democratic governor, saying, "Unlike Gov. Tom Wolf, we are focused on creating an environment where our families and job creators can succeed."

Thus started a war of words with the offended state pushing back, calling Scott's trip a "political stunt," and questioning why Scott hadn't attempted to steal jobs until Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was out of office. They pointed out that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 4.8 percent while Florida's was at 5.6 percent, and their average hourly wage was $16.95 while Florida's was $15.82.

The taunting was mutual. And the media attention received was priceless.

So what came out of Scott's Pennsylvania poaching? Well, let's put it this way: My governor went to Pennsylvania and all we got were some Wawa's.

Don't get me wrong — getting more Wawa gas stations and convenience stores is a good thing. Who doesn't love Wawa? Well, maybe 7-11 and RaceTrac, but who else?

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Wawa had already opened 61 stores in Florida and announced during Scott's visit that they plan to open more stores — hardly an impressive accomplishment for all the hoopla.

But what about moving their Pennsylvania headquarters, a true job poaching victory? Nah — they're staying there and expanding their facility.

Now Scott has his eye on California and is ratcheting up his rhetoric. He's targeting the shipping industry and hopes to expand trade in Florida's seaports. In a letter to shipping professionals, Scott took a jab at Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, accusing him of running a "tax and spend administration."

California, no stranger to states eager to recruit their job creators, fired back saying, "When you're the largest job creating state in the nation, it's no surprise people take notice." And indeed they are. California's economic activity represents 13 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, more than double Florida's 5 percent.

But can Florida capitalize on the state's labor disputes as an enticement to move cargo to our ports? According to experts, it's unlikely. They claim we aren't geographically positioned as gateways for discretionary cargo or freight coming in and out of the state. Shippers like Bacardi, IKEA, Macy's and Target aren't likely to move their supply chains east, according to one economist, and if they did it would probably be to Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga.

If nothing else, Scott's April trip to California serves as a fairly inexpensive public relations and advertising campaign for Florida ports. It also raises his national profile. Perhaps that's really the goal.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at