Gov. Rick Scott has yet to dip into the $85 million lawmakers set aside this year to attract new businesses to Florida, but he’s already seeking to replenish the pool of money.
Scott told the Enterprise Florida board of directors, meeting last week in Jacksonville, of the need to ensure lawmakers maintain the new “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund,” which has attracted 209 applications from governments and other groups across the state since opening in July.
However, Scott and his office haven’t indicated when money could be awarded to the first regional or workforce project.
“I have no interest in doing any deals unless we get a very good return on investment,” Scott said. “When I was in business, I had a fiduciary to my employees, to the shareholders. In this, I have an absolute fiduciary to the taxpayers of the state to make sure all those dollars we get a very good return on investment.”
Scott’s request to replenish the fund with another $85 million is part of his $87.4 billion budget proposal for the 2018 legislative session.
The various applicants this year have collectively requested $713.4 million to help with projects with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. Most offer local matches.
The proposals range from $2,580 sought on Oct. 4 by Film Florida, for an industry training event that occurred Oct. 21, to $25 million requested by Pasco County for a $62.1 million Interstate 75 and Overpass Road interchange project.
The fund was created during a June special legislative session as a compromise between Scott and House leaders. The House had earlier sought to eliminate the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida and other economic-development programs.
After the fund was created, several Democrats derided the money as a “slush fund” that needed more oversight. Enterprise Florida and the state Department of Economic Opportunity are reviewing the proposals.
House leaders were heavily focused on ending programs that awarded economic incentives to single companies in return for relocating to Florida or expanding in the state. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, repeatedly called such incentives “corporate welfare.”
Money in the new fund is prohibited from going to projects that provide exclusive benefits to single businesses.
In 2016 and earlier this year, Scott was unable to get lawmakers to approve his requests to continue funding economic incentives through Enterprise Florida.
That cut off money Scott had offered in prior years to attract, maintain or help expand companies, such as Hertz, United Technologies and Harris Corp.
On Wednesday, Mike Grissom, Enterprise Florida executive vice president, said Scott, who has only a year left in the governor’s office, has been adamant that any money awarded is guaranteed to have a positive return on investment.
“I think we’ve found a place where everybody is happy when it comes to this program,” Grissom said. “I think we’ve seen that it’s useful and valuable to our state and that the Legislature is OK with it. So, we want to make sure that we can continue to use it.”
Among the largest requests:
• Hillsborough County, Apollo Beach Boulevard extension. A $33.6 million project along the “I-75 Job Corridor” linking U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 over the interstate. Request: $23 million.
• State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota STEM campus. The proposal seeks money to help secure land and make other improvements needed to support a campus. Request: $22.44 million.
• Marion County, Crossroads Commerce Park. The $272 million project, encompassing more than 900 acres, is envisioned as having distribution, warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Request: $22.24 million.
Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.