The head of Florida’s economic and workforce agency is pushing back against claims business subsidies don’t spur economic development.
The Florida House of Representatives recently moved to dissolve the state’s economic development agency — Enterprise Florida — but Department of Economic Opportunity Director Cissy Proctor said incentives are essential to win the favor of corporations.
“Those big job creation deals that we do are extremely important, as is the assistance we provide to a one- or two-person company that wants to export to another country and gets assistance to do that,” she said on a Monday stop in Jacksonville.
She and Gov. Rick Scott are touring the state as part of a campaign to shore up support for business incentives and they’re targeting areas where lawmakers have voted against Scott’s priorities. Scott is also running TV ads in the same targeted areas.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran made it his crusade to rid the state of so-called “corporate welfare” by defunding Enterprise Florida. His cohort of lawmakers opposed to the agency includes many from the First Coast — most notably the repeal bill’s sponsor Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.
Moreover, Corcoran and his allies said the promise of incentives has never really materialized — the economic impact of subsidies has been exaggerated.
But Proctor disagrees.
“Economic development has to be strategic and requires a lot of investment,” she said. “And if we are going to be strategic and make investments in our state and investments in growing our economy, incentives are a part of that, especially for highly competitive deals.”
Proctor said most other states offer such incentives and wrangling companies away from them would be nearly impossible without public money.
A similar fight over state incentives played out last year, when Florida lawmakers refused to continue funding a film incentive program after it ran out of money in two years instead of the six it was supposed to last.
Opponents of those incentives cited nonpartisan state studies from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis And Government Accountability. The former found that for every $5 the state spent on film subsidies, it saw a return of just $2. The latter found for every dollar the state spent, it only received 43 cents in return.
Proctor said there’s a big difference between film and business subsidies.
“These are a lot longer term investments than for instance a film that comes in. You make the film and then you leave. There definitely is an impact to that, because they’re going to spend money, but it’s not a long-term investment,” she said.