In the wake of a squabble over whether the new Enterprise Florida logo featuring a neck tie is sexist, some have greater concerns about the state’s principal economic development organization.
Americans for Prosperity-Florida, in partnership with the government watchdog group Integrity Florida, released a report Tuesday suggesting Enterprise Florida is a pay-to-play effort beset with conflicts of interest that benefit its corporate sponsors.
“Enterprise Florida was created by the Legislature more than twenty years ago with the lofty goal of bringing new jobs to Florida,” Slade O’Brien, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, said in a press release Tuesday. “Yet it has failed to meet its stated goals all while giving the appearance of being a hotbed of cronyism and corporate welfare.”
The study, Enterprise Florida: Economic Development or Corporate Welfare, documents what it calls Enterprise Florida’s “apparent conflicts of interest, the appearance of a pay-to-play scheme for winning favorable treatment and its repeated practice of picking winners and losers in the marketplace through targeted business, favoritism, and selective incentive deals.”
“Low taxes and decreased regulatory burdens will do more to encourage permanent job growth in our state than a one-time cash handout will,” O’Brien added.
The study looks at what taxpayers are getting in return for Enterprise Florida’s investments and if its deals amount to anything more than corporate welfare, concluding that a lack of transparency and accountability combined with failed policies have created a situation that deserves intense examination and scrutiny by Florida’s elected officials.
Martin Dyckman, a former St. Petersburg Times editor and a board member at Integrity Florida, resigned after finding out that the report was funded by Americans for Prosperity, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Among the concerns outlined in the report:
- Seats on the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, along with the opportunity to receive vendor contracts and incentives, appear to have come in exchange for $50,000 contributions.
- The board bases staff bonuses on signed agreements for promises of new jobs in the future rather than independently verified new jobs created.
- The board fails to rapidly disclose approved incentive deals and vendor contracts as well as deals that are not approved to the public.
- The board pays companies incentives to relocate existing jobs to Florida, and for existing jobs that are being retained or moved within Florida’s own borders.
Enterprise Florida’s board of directors responded almost immediately with a letter — signed by Gov. Rick Scott, among other board members — sent to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz “defending its performance and pledging to complete improvements such as the online database,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The letter reads in part: “Through the legislation that you supported two short years ago, Florida now has a seamless economic development team focused on creating jobs for Florida families, increasing capital investment in our communities and providing a significant return on the investment made by the state’s taxpayers.”