Despite strong job creation, South Florida gets fewer financial incentives from the state than Florida’s other large metro areas, a new state report shows.
The reason: Open land and office space are hard to come by here, so the region has a tougher time attracting large employers from other states, development leaders say.
Those type of deals are the ones that attract tax breaks from state government.
Palm Beach County, Broward and Miami-Dade employers created 8,384 jobs compared with 6,638 in the Orlando region during the fiscal year ending in June, according to the report from Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private partnership for job creation.
But employers in the tri-county area received only $19.63 million in incentives — less than half of the $49.85 million of incentives in the Orlando area, the report says.
The Tampa region outdid both South Florida and Orlando in jobs, with employers creating 11,465. Tampa employers were awarded financial incentives of $38.59 million.
Local leaders say they would like more of the big company moves, which create more jobs and attract more state money.
“I would like to see more game-changer projects for Palm Beach County,” said Kelly Smallridge, president of Palm Beach’s Business Development Board.
Palm Beach County had only one such project in the past year: Office Depot, which decided in 2013 to keep its headquarters in Boca Raton after merging with Illinois-based OfficeMax.
The office-supply retailer could receive up to $5 million in new incentives from the state and local officials on top of millions of dollars granted years earlier.
In Broward County, state incentives included AutoNation, the nation’s top automobile dealer in Fort Lauderdale, which won $448,000 for a commitment of 56 new jobs, and Prolexic Technologies, an IT company that expanded to Fort Lauderdale, $250,000 for 120 retained jobs and 118 new jobs, with a $1.16 million capital investment.
The Orlando area attracted companies including Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., with 1,000 jobs and a $61 million capital investment. The Tampa region won Amazon operations, with 375 new jobs and $1.25 million in capital investment, and USAA (United Services Automobile Association), with 1,215 new jobs and a $164 million investment.
Smallridge said the state awards incentives based on three factors: the company’s capital investment (the amount it will spend on the expansion); the number of jobs created; and employee pay that is above average.
According to Enterprise Florida, Orlando attracted $864.9 million in capital investment, Tampa $561.4 and South Florida $495.16 million.
Palm Beach County gets passed over by some companies looking for 150,000 square feet or more of contiguous office space — the county simply doesn’t have it, Smallridge said.
But the county does have land available for building, which could make it eligible for large manufacturing and distribution projects or new headquarters operations, Smallridge said.
Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, said Broward’s lack of available land puts it at a disadvantage in attracting big projects and incentives.
When Broward County does compete for economic development projects, the alliance treads carefully before talking about incentives, he said. If local officials are supportive, the alliance floats the deal by the state. But at the outset, Swindell tells the prospect, “I’m not sure what we can do right now.”
“Nothing can kill a deal faster than false expectations,” he said.
Enterprise Florida reported that the state added 36,207 jobs, a 44 percent increase over fiscal 2012-2013. Those companies agreed to $2.79 billion in capital investment, a 41 percent increase from a year earlier.
In a February 2013 study, government watchdog group Integrity Florida found that Enterprise Florida had failed to meet its job-creation objectives and had not secured 50 percent of its funding from the private sector as required.
Enterprise Florida and the state legislature changed the group’s metrics in 2011, said Sean Helton, spokesman for Enterprise Florida. And the legislature increased its budget to $19.9 million this fiscal year from $18 million, while available incentives were increased to $71 million from $70.5 million a year ago, he said.
Incentives are critical to competing for new companies and jobs in Florida, he said.
“Economic development has never been more competitive than it is today. Enterprise Florida and our partners are competing not only with other states but with other countries,” Helton said.
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Comparing financial incentives
Broward: 3,237 new jobs; $338.25 million in capital investment; $7.14 million in incentives
Palm Beach: 3,634 jobs; $72.56 million in capital investment; $10 million in incentives
Miami: 1,513 jobs; $84.35 million in capital investment; $2.49 million in incentives
Source: Enterprise Florida report, fiscal year 2013-2014