Jacksonville may be Ground Zero for the debate about economic incentives. Local leaders want them, but the local Florida House delegation does not.
This week, yet another prominent person in Jacksonville’s City Hall sounded the alarm for state incentives via Enterprise Florida.
The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that local OED head Kirk Wendland made the case for Enterprise Florida on Tuesday to local stakeholders.
Wendland’s quotes are so on message with Gov. Rick Scott that they could have come out of his press shop.
“If any of you know any senators and you have any conversations with them, please convey that it’s serious. We are counting on them to save Enterprise Florida,” Wendland said.
To hear him tell it, the merry-go-round of economic development is slowing: “just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months.”
Consultants — the kind that handle site visits for companies — aren’t biting, saying “we’ll come talk to you” after the incentive fight wraps.
If Enterprise Florida is cut, it “will have a material impact on us being able to compete for major projects here in Florida, in Jacksonville specifically,” Wendland told the Daily Record.
Wendland’s words echo the positions of two members of the city council, Jim Love and Aaron Bowman (whose day job is with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce).
Bowman and Love are pushing a resolution to affirm support for Enterprise Florida, which they believe is especially important for Jacksonville compared to other major metros in the state.
The salient numbers for Councilman Love: 5,000 jobs and $650M in private capital investment since July 2015.
Even before the council resolution, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to our Northeast Florida bureau about the need for incentives.
“We use incentives – local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida – and we use them successfully,” Curry contended.
The city’s scorecard, which ensures ROI for taxpayers when incentives are offered, is designed to ensure an “inflow of tax dollars that exceeds that investment.”
“I would say that incentives are important to us. They’re used in a way that respects the taxpayers. Without the state funding,” Curry said, “we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed.”
Since the beginning of his mayoral administration in July 2015, Curry has evangelized for Enterprise Florida.
“Funding for Enterprise Florida is critical and important for Northeast Florida,” the mayor said in the summer of 2015. “It’s how we get deals done.”
It’s not just government workers who back Enterprise Florida.
It’s also the donor class, as Shad Khan made clear as early as 2015.
“I want to applaud Governor Scott,” Khan said. “If there is one lesson [to be derived] from Florida, it’s that economic development,” when prioritized, “leads to other things down the road.”
Such development can’t happen without Enterprise Florida, he said, and commented that the funding deficit is “disconcerting” because “the returns on funding are phenomenal.”
He urged the Legislature to “loosen the purse strings,” lest opportunity for corporate recruitment be lost.
Khan said, controversially at the time, that “there’s nothing iconic about Jacksonville.”
In that, he’s right.
Economic incentives have been the rising tide that has lifted at least some boats locally.
All of those deals were incentive driven.
Jacksonville is an acquired taste for corporate types, used to the faster pace of life in New York or other traditional hotbeds.
However, it was just this year that Bloomberg reported that Jacksonville’s efforts, aided and abetted by state economic development, are paying off.
“Global financial companies including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and Sydney-based Macquarie Group have been moving executives here and hiring locally, even while paring staff elsewhere.
“It’s part of a Wall Street trend known as nearshoring, in which banks are moving operations away from expensive financial centers like New York to places such as Jacksonville and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Also in Jacksonville are more than 19,000 employees of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo,” Bloomberg notes, adding that Jacksonville is Deutsche Bank’s second largest American location.
In addition, the Bloomberg report notes that jobs in Jacksonville, such as those offered by Macquarie, are filled by “people whose jobs might otherwise have been filled in India. It provides a support staff that’s more convenient for its U.S.-based employees, while its Indian operation continues to focus on the Asia business.”
With two years of successful economic development under the current structure, it’s noteworthy that the Duval Delegation is unmoved by the results on the ground.
During this week’s vote on Enterprise Florida in the House, a grand total of one representative — Jay Fant — represented the position preferred by local policy makers.
Paul Renner, seen as an adjunct local legislator, is key to the battle against incentives.
Meanwhile, other Republicans (Cord Byrd, Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough) and both local Democrats (Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels) went with the Speaker and away from the constant drumbeat from locals that Jacksonville’s economic boom will lean toward bust without state incentives.
This has been a session of recalibrated expectations in Jacksonville’s city hall relative to this delegation: consider the aborted Hart Bridge offramp changes as a prime example.
The argument could be made, meanwhile, that the most effective lobbying on any measure by a local legislator has been by Rep. Daniels, on her bill expanding protections of “religious expression” in public schools.
Daniels took the bill over to the Senate, where she got Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley to carry it through committees to the Senate floor.
On the House side, meanwhile, the bill has had one committee hearing.
It was approved unanimously, with applause after the vote.
One can argue the merits of school prayer and other demonstrations of “religious expression” in schools.
What can’t be argued: no amount of “religious expression” in schools will bring a single job to Jacksonville.