State budget cuts will hamper economic development, but Hillsborough leaders remain determined

May 17, 2017

Janelle Irwin | Tampa Bay Business Journal

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is moving forward with its goal of making the area a hub for business despite what it perceives as some losses during this year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers approved a budget containing just $16 million for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. Florida Governor Rick Scott had asked for $85 million to fund the agency.

Enterprise Florida helps fund economic incentives to entice businesses to move to or expand in Florida.

“We’re greatly reduced and diminished in our ability to operate,” said Craig Richard, CEO of the EDC during a Wednesday meeting with business partners in the Tampa Bay region.

The Legislature for the second year in a row also failed to include funding for the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which helps pay for corporate relocations, a key incentive for businesses moving to Florida.

Richard hosted a media roundtable to send a message that despite cutbacks, the agency remains optimistic in its goals. He said 43 percent of the agency’s leads come from Enterprise Florida.

He remained optimistic that local governments will still have access to incentives for new and relocating businesses through the Qualified Target Industry tax rebate program.

Concern about the big picture
While the group, which included representatives from workforce training programs and Hillsborough County government, reiterated support for continuing to push economic development in the area, there was still an overall concern that this year’s proposed budget sends the wrong message to out-of-state businesses — that Florida isn’t open for business.

Lawmakers also reduced funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing group, to $25 million, a third what the governor had requested.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan used the state’s slashing of its film incentives program as an example of what to expect if economic and tourist development continue to suffer sweeping budget cuts.

“We’re doing everything we can here locally,” Hagan said.

But he noted big name movies like “The Infiltrator,” which Hagan said netted the county a four-to-one return on investment, are flocking to states that do offer incentives.

“I don’t think it’s a jump to presume that a somewhat impact is going to take place in our other targeted industries,” he said.

All six participants said access to quality education, particularly post-secondary education, is a key element to attracting talent and businesses.

This year the Legislature approved a last-minute deal brokered behind closed doors that robbed the University of South Florida of a prestigious title it was set to earn this year and along with that millions in state grants to hire new faculty and attract high-quality students.

Richard lamented the move was shortsighted, saying the state should want to have as many quality schools as possible to remain competitive with states like California.