TALLAHASSEE — Flanked by Mickey Mouse and corporate chieftains, Gov. Rick Scott touted his goal of "investing in our ports" last week when Walt Disney said it would ship tons of souvenirs through the Port of Jacksonville to its theme parks and resorts.
What went unmentioned was the $1 million Florida awarded last fall for TraPac to hire 10 employees at its 3-year-old, $300 million container terminal in Jacksonville. The North American arm of Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines had agreed to spend $2.5 million in exchange for those state dollars.
The deals reflect the former CEO-turned-governor's broader economic-development "stimulus" strategy: cheaper, smaller and sometimes higher-risk. And they show something else: Instead of bringing in new companies from out of state, a majority of Scott's economic-development deals are going to companies already here.
In the past year, Scott's office has awarded $1.5 million to Publix Super Markets for projects such as building a distribution center in Orlando; $10 million to Raymond James Financial Inc. to expand in Pasco County; and millions more to Florida-based companies such as Chico's in Fort Myers and Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores, according to data the Sentinel acquired on the state's incentive programs.
"If you're not taking care of what's in your own backyard, you have a fatal flaw in your recruitment strategy," said Scott's commerce secretary, Gray Swoope, who heads the public-private Enterprise Florida corporate-recruitment agency.
Many of the "corporate investors" in Enterprise Florida — the public-private partnership that executes incentive contracts with companies — have also been approved for incentives, including Darden Restaurants, Publix, Harris Corp., Kaplan and Embraer.
Scott took office vowing to call CEOs every day to coax them to move to Florida. But he also likes to brag about not being a spendthrift, from showing off cheap shirts to buying roof tiles in bulk for his Naples mansion ahead of hurricane season.
And with fewer dollars to spend, the average incentive package offered under his watch has been cheaper than those negotiated by his two immediate predecessors — and has led to Florida getting outbid by other states for at least seven major projects.
Scott said in an interview that he had signed deals with businesses faster than his predecessors, and "we're doing well" luring new companies from out of state.
"The tax incentives are bringing companies here that might have gone elsewhere," Scott said.
He referenced MindTree, a global IT and product-engineering company paid $2 million in incentives to relocate to Alachua County, as an example of the companies he has reeled in that will bring jobs to Florida and nurture the state's talent.
"These are the kinds of companies we want in our state and who are looking for the right talent," he said. "I want to ask them, 'What can I do to make sure you want to move your business here?' "
Gov. Jeb Bush was the first chief executive to have all of Florida's current "tool box" of economic incentives, tax rebates and credits to work with during his entire eight years in office. He inked $796 million in deals with 645 companies, an average of $1.2 million each.
During his four years, Gov. Charlie Crist's economic-development arm did deals with 331 companies, totaling $611.9 million — or a bit more than $1.8 million per company.
With fewer dollars to award, Scott's office has had to spread them thinner. In 16 months, Scott's jobs agency negotiated deals with 203 companies, worth a total of $154.8 million, or an average of just less than $763,000 each. In exchange, those companies have pledged to create at least 22,000 jobs during the lifetime of their contracts.
Both Crist and Bush cut massive "innovation deals" with biotechnology companies. Bush's office, for instance, awarded $155.3 million to the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando. Crist's office handed out $94 million to Max Planck Society for its still-unopened research facility in Jupiter, and an additional $80 million to the University of Miami medical school for life-science research.
But even when those outliers are removed, Crist's average deal was still worth more than $1.1 million, and Bush's was worth a little more than $947,000 — far more than Scott's team is giving out.
Many of the deals under all three governors never panned out, particularly during Crist's administration when the economy was souring.
ECONOMIC SCOREBOARD: RICK SCOTT'S JOB AGENDA
Incentive deals cut by Scott are small but numerous
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