House Takes Aim at Enterprise Florida

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Posted March 13, 2023 | By Jim Turner
Florida News Service

Enterprise Florida, the state’s business-recruitment agency, is again in the crosshairs of the Florida House as the 2023 legislative session opened Tuesday.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, called for the elimination of the public-private agency as he discussed priorities for the session.

“We will zealously guard taxpayers’ money, ensuring it’s not spent on programs or agencies that have outlived their usefulness,” Renner said. “Enterprise Florida has over-promised and under-delivered for years and drains funds from higher priorities. If this were Washington, D.C., it would live on forever, unchanged and unchallenged, but the Florida way requires us to retain only what works and eliminate what does not.”

A bill filed Monday (HB 5) proposes shifting Enterprise Florida’s funding to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Renner later told reporters that some adjustments will be made to the bill, but people and businesses have come to the state without incentives from Enterprise Florida. He said $13 million in funding this year for Enterprise Florida could be better used in other areas.

“The idea that it has delivered on its promises I think, in my opinion, is just not the case,” Renner said. “Do we really need a separate board, with people who are there, or can we more streamline what we’re doing and really not waste taxpayer dollars.”

House leaders targeted the agency in the past, including during high-profile clashes with then-Gov. Rick Scott over economic incentives.

Former House Speaker Richard Corcoran repeatedly referred to incentives offered directly to companies as “corporate welfare.” Corcoran’s successor as speaker, Jose Oliva, described incentive deals as going against the free market and favoring large corporations.

Enterprise Florida survived but with less funding.

Also, as a compromise with Scott, lawmakers created the Job Growth Grant Fund. The governor can distribute money from that fund to regional infrastructure and job-training programs.

Gov Ron DeSantis has requested $100 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund next fiscal year, up from $50 million in the current year.

With the Job Growth Grant Fund in hand, DeSantis has shown less interest than Scott in Enterprise Florida.

In February, the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors elevated Laura DiBella as head of the agency.

Renner took aim at Enterprise Florida as he and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, outlined priorities on the opening day of the session. Both also praised DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024.

“He has defended our conservative values, challenged the individuals and institutions who pose threats to others and introduced innovative solutions to better our state. It is often said that states are laboratories for democracy,” Passidomo said. “Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Florida is more than a laboratory, we are the model.”

Passidomo promoted legislation on issues such as storm hardening and resiliency, border security, school choice and allowing people to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses.

Passidomo said the full Senate this week will take up bills to address affordable housing and a state wildlife corridor, two of her top priorities.

“With this legislation, all of the families, workers, law enforcement officers, teachers and so many others who are flocking to Florida from high-tax, lockdown states can live conveniently close to the communities they serve,” Passidomo said of the housing bill (SB 102). “I am confident this legislation will pass tomorrow with overwhelming support.”

Renner supported the housing proposal, which is called the “Live Local Act.”

The bill includes providing incentives for private investment in affordable housing, encouraging mixed-use development in struggling commercial areas, pre-empting local-government rules on density and building heights in certain circumstances and barring local rent controls.

What is Enterprise Florida, and what has been its impact on Marion County?

According to their website, Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI) is the official economic development organization for the state of Florida- like how the Chamber for Economic Development (CEP) is the official economic development organization for Marion County and the City of Ocala.

The CEP is our county’s designee to work with EFI when coordinating economic development efforts in Marion County. We asked Kevin Sheilley to weigh in on how this relationship with EFI has impacted Marion County.

File photo: Kevin Sheilley, the President/CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership, speaks to Florida legislators during the Marion County Delegation at the Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

This is what he wrote back:

As I understand HB 5 (and at nearly 160 pages I have not read it thoroughly), it appears the intent is to revert back to a state Department of Commerce vs the hybrid which is Enterprise Florida. It is important that Florida have a state entity devoted to economic development and all its various parts.

The CEP has had a good relationship with EFI. Our structure and approach have been to predominantly drive our own activity on the business attraction side. That is an advantage that larger communities like Ocala have that many of Florida’s smaller communities do not. We coordinate with them on attraction projects but overwhelmingly drive our own activity. However, we do take advantage of several of their other programs and initiatives to assist our businesses and community. Like the CEP, their activity is far broader than just recruiting new businesses.

Here are a few examples:

  • EFI operates more than a dozen international trade offices. We work with them on Foreign Direct Investment but even more on connecting businesses who are interested in exporting. Earlier this year, we had more than 50 businesses register for a session we hosted here with EFI reps to discuss exporting.
  • Last month we took 10 small businesses to Tallahassee to participate in an EFI conference on learning how MWBE enterprises can do business with the state.
  • The CEP along with the TDC works with the Florida Sports Foundation (part of EFI) to promote the World Equestrian Center and FAST.


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