Florida has sixty-seven counties with unique characteristics and needs. The state offers diversity in environment, entertainment and, most importantly, opportunity. With forward-thinking leadership, collaboration and a vision for the future, it has become a place where both business and workforce can flourish.
People from the Eastern Seaboard and north into Canada have long traveled to the southern-most state to escape the cold of the winter months, drawn to its weather, beaches, culture and vibrant communities. The climate is more than just ideal for tourists; its pro-business environment is conducive to growth.
“That’s what we have. We have what’s out there that nature brings us. We have a business environment that’s favorable, and we have the kinds of things CEOs worry about when they relocate. We have a great education system, a very fine university and college system, and we have cultural opportunities throughout the state,” said Florida’s Secretary of Commerce Peter Antonacci.
Peter Antonacci assumed the role of Enterprise Florida’s (EFI) CEO in August of 2017 under the leadership of EFI’s Board, chaired by Governor Rick Scott. EFI’s Board includes a mix of appointed members, including legislators, statutory members like the Florida Cabinet, and investor members. These members represent many business sectors and communities around the state.
In 1996, Florida’s legislature created EFI, bringing together an economic development team of public and private stakeholders to use resources efficiently to realize the state’s economic development plan.
EFI uses the state’s many strengths to prepare it for growth. The state’s extensive multi-modal infrastructure includes twenty commercial use airports, fifteen seaports and two space ports in addition to highway, rail and technology links. Florida has the resources to sustain twenty million residents, one hundred million tourists and provide access to markets across the state, country and world.
“We have something in the business world that can’t hardly be beat. Some states may have a combination of this, but Florida is a right-to-work state, and there is no personal income tax, and over the past seven years, under Governor Scott’s leadership, we’ve reduced the impact of the corporate income tax on all but the very large companies,” Antonacci said.
Florida’s pro-business environment, with its competitive tax structure and the outstanding quality of life – including a crime rate that is at a forty-six-year low – has made it highly competitive. Since December 2010, 1.49 million jobs were created across the state, bringing unemployment to its lowest level in a decade.
“In virtually every area, we have fewer crimes than we had five years ago with a million plus more people, so it’s a wonderful place to live where you have a sense of security. It helps build confidence in doing whatever you are doing to make business work productively, raise your family, et cetera,” said Antonacci.
Florida is experiencing economic development success despite being faced with the challenge of restricted cash flow available for business development and investment. “Every state is different and has different things to offer to potential suitors, and as of today, the main thing that Florida does not have to offer that most of our competitors do is ready cash, so that’s our biggest challenge that we’re competing without the ready cash that we’ve had in the past. It hasn’t made us any less enthusiastic about the fight, but it does take one of your tools away.”
EFI, in partnership with economic development authorities at the county and local levels, as well as state partners such as CareerSource Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Ports Council, is at the forefront of business investment and expansion. One of its chief initiatives is workforce development.
“We have a workforce organization that works through local boards, and those organizations are critical in standing up our workforce to business opportunities, and our education system is keyed into our workforce organization. Anything can improve, but this is a pretty well-designed system, and we have lots of weapons to bring to work every day to make Florida a better place to bring jobs,” explained Antonacci.
In July 2017, Governor Scott announced a new economic development program called the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. In the program’s first year, $85 million has been allotted for workforce development and infrastructure projects to sustain the economic momentum that the state has been experiencing since 2010.
More than two hundred applications, totaling $760 million, were submitted to EFI and DEO. Manatee Technical College was the first to receive funding from the program. The college received $201,500 for manufacturing workforce training programs.
An application was also submitted by Pensacola State College. The institution requested $1.86 million for labor force training geared towards careers in aviation maintenance, nursing, transportation, advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity technology. These sectors are have potential thanks to the business atmosphere in Florida.
Other successful proposals came from Suwannee County, which got $3.125 million for water supply and fire protection infrastructure; the City of Alachua, which will receive $6.766 million for the construction of San Felasco Parkway; and Columbia County, which was awarded $3.135 million for the construction of the North Florida Mega Industrial Park rail project.
The list goes on and indicates the degree to which the state is committed to investing in its future. Projects that receive funding are evaluated on several criteria, one of the most important of which is the anticipated return on investment. Almost $59 million has been awarded statewide as of March 8th and an additional $85 million has been appropriated in Florida’s Budget for next year for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.
Other anticipated projects include a $6 million, 1.5-mile access road in Jacksonville around Interstate 10, as well as a plan for $8.245 million to expand access to Port Canaveral for both cruise and cargo ships. These investments are sure to spur additional growth.
On any given day, the news will report on one of the numerous economic development success stories that Florida has achieved with EFI at the helm. Between February 13 and 14, 2018 alone, there were three very impressive announcements.
Allegiant stated plans to establish a new aircraft base at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. Lockheed Martin announced future expansion in Orlando that would create five hundred jobs, and Virgin Voyages will create two hundred jobs at a new headquarters in Broward County, proving the strength of the aviation and aerospace sector in Florida.
Another project, by Blue Origin – owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame – is nearly complete and brought over three hundred jobs to Florida. The venture will advance commercial human space transportation and related technologies, and Blue Origin selected the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and surrounding area as the perfect site. New facilities house the support, manufacturing and launch operations of its Orbital Launch Vehicle (OLV) program.
The state has a reputation as a national gateway to space, as well as great location for advanced manufacturing. Other thriving industries are manufacturing, professional and financial services, medical and life sciences, information technology, e-commerce, warehousing and distribution.
Other developments of mention include a $31 million capital investment by Chewy.com. The online pet product retailer will locate its new fulfillment center in Marion County, bringing six hundred new jobs to the region. ‘Big four’ auditor KPMG is also making a significant investment in a fifty-five-acre learning, development and innovation facility that will is scheduled to be completed in late-2019.
Of the many investment announcements, one of the most notable is Modernizing Medicine, a Florida-based healthcare information technology company that plans to expand its operations in Palm Beach County’s Boca Raton Innovation Center (BRIC). The company has made a capital investment of $15 million which will add 838 jobs by 2022.
Florida is a place where industries can reach full potential. “I welcome you to come to Florida – any city in Florida, even a midsized city – and you just get a sense that the place is buzzing. People are at work. People seem engaged in enterprise and education,” Antonacci said.
Florida a great place for business and workforce and has created an economic development model to be emulated. “This is a unique place in that, unlike most other states in the U.S., Florida has outsourced its economic development infrastructure, for lack of a better term. What we have is the kind of traditional state resources. You have human beings that do jobs, instead of a government leadership model,” said Antonacci, “which I think gives Florida a substantial leg-up in the area of business development.”
By understanding the needs of business, EFI is doing its part to ensure that resources are available to ensure the state remains viable long into the future. Florida is known as the ‘Sunshine State,’ and through the efforts of EFI and partners, it will continue to shine brightly.