Gov. Rick Scott has slashed university funding, vetoed money for the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and emphasizes a very outmoded method for building businesses in Florida — cold calling companies to lure them here.
None of that bodes well for the biotechnology sector that Florida spent $1.5 billion to bring to the state during the past seven years. Scripps Florida in Jupiter and Orlando's Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute were the largest recipients.
Whether or not Scott agrees with the big down payments on the industry that Gov. Jeb Bush started and Gov. Charlie Crist continued, the investment can't be taken back now. To not follow up on it would be tantamount to letting it go to waste.
That's why it's so surprising that when Scott spoke to business leaders earlier this week in Orlando at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Future of Florida Forum, he didn't mention one of the biggest obstacles for biotech and other emerging sectors today: Florida's dearth of venture capital.
Since he didn't bring it up, I did. I asked Scott for his thoughts on the scarcity of venture capital and what can be done.
"We're not where we'd like to be, but we're making progress," he said. "It's [venture capital is] going to come to Florida."
Confidence is good, but better would be a plan for how the state can cultivate its original deals and encourage more private investment.
Scott refused to meet with Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based biotech outfit looking for the state to cut it a big check earlier this year. That was the right call. The days of major windfalls for a single company are over.
But Scott needs to nurture what we've got so jobs can grow through spinoffs and suppliers.
What about using the Florida Opportunity Fund, state money used to support venture capital, or some variation of it to help fund those early-stage companies that have a hard time finding money? What about steering some of the dollars available through the governor's new Department of Economic Opportunity for this purpose?
"The question is always, 'How do you allocate the dollars?'" Scott said.
It was an answer in the form of a non-answer before he was whisked away to his next meeting.
One thing he is clear about, though, is his desire to call CEOs and chat them up on why Florida is a great place to do business.
"If anybody has any company that they want me to call, any company in Florida or anywhere in the world, I'll call them," he told the Chamber crowd this week.
That's the old model of economic development. Sometimes it pays more to work with what is already here.
Former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who worked with Bush on the Scripps and Sanford-Burnham deals, wisely put it this way, "Sometimes we get so busy trying to bring businesses here, we forget what we already have."
Also at the Chamber's conference it unveiled its "Florida Scorecard," which grades the state in various categories such as innovation and quality of life on a zero-to-200-point scale.
One that jumped out: The score for business climate and competitiveness. It received the lowest score — a 48 — among the six categories. That flies against almost every other survey or report out there that consistently rank Florida's business climate, which measures things like taxes and regulation, in the top 5 among 50 states.
It's almost as if the chamber is looking to justify its continued push for even fewer taxes and regulation.
"That's a fair accusation, one I would expect," said Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation.
He says the ranking includes unemployment. That drove down the score from other rankings that don't factor that in.
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