As the state’s budget year came to an end, Gov. Rick Scott doled out the last of an initial $85 million pot of “job growth” dollars that lawmakers approved in an economic-development compromise.
In a news release late Friday, Scott’s office announced more than $16 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund would be set aside for six applicants, with the largest amount, $5.5 million, going for water, sewer and roadway improvements to assist the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park in Marion County.
The state’s 2017-2018 budget year ended Saturday. And with the new fiscal year starting Sunday, a second pool of $85 million immediately became available to Scott and — depending on how much he uses — his successor after Scott leaves office in January.
“I look forward to even more Florida communities benefiting from this accountable program, so every Floridian can find a great job right here in our state,” Scott said in a prepared statement announcing the latest grants.
The other new awards Friday were $4 million for the construction of a highway for an industrial warehouse and logistics facility in Hialeah; $3.02 million for a manufacturing training center at Immokalee Technical College in Collier County; $2.07 million for improvements to Atlantis Drive to support commercial development in Clay County; $1.9 million to develop a manufacturing training institute at Gulf Coast State College; and $135,000 to create a construction industry training program for high school and postsecondary students at Withlacoochee Technical College.
The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was created in 2017 after a legislative battle about economic-development funding. Scott had sought $85 million for incentives that would be available through the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida. But led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, lawmakers objected to money going directly to specific companies.
Under the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, money is required to go to regional projects, rather than individual businesses. The money is handled by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which received more than 250 applications, collectively seeking $877 million in assistance, during the past fiscal year.
The creation of the fund drew concerns from some Democrats, who said it could become a “slush fund” for the governor.
Scott has made a series of announcements about awarding the initial $85 million. The announcement Friday from his office said the 33 proposals that have received grants are expected to provide a return on investment of “more than $321 million to taxpayers.”
Yet the number of jobs on the table is somewhat difficult to quantify, even though a question on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund application seeks “a description of the number of jobs that will be retained or created.”
Based on the 33 applications that received funding, the money could be tied to nearly 100,000 jobs over the next decade.
But several factors play into the estimates from the applicants.
For example, often the numbers in applications involving college vocational training are based on estimates from business groups, which envision boosts in people landing jobs within a set number of years. Meanwhile, the impact of proposed new roads and infrastructure is often based on projections of commercial centers or businesses attracting new companies and employees.
Also, not every award from the fund matched the amounts of money requested.
In Marion County’s application, which sought $22 million, the state’s contribution is anticipated to help quickly get the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park underway.
The commerce park is envisioned as doubling the “success” of the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park that “has seen the creation of nearly 1,500 jobs, 1.4 million square feet of new construction, and $270 million in capital investment.”
The amount eventually awarded was slightly more than the $4.97 million being put up by the county through sales and gas-tax revenues.
Other job projections also appear to raise questions.
Marianna, which received $1.99 million in March to extend a runway at Marianna Airport Commerce Park, estimated “hundreds, if not thousands” of new jobs, as the lengthened runway would help it compete against similar facilities in Georgia and Alabama.
St. Johns River State College, which on May 30 received nearly $1.4 million to expand an advanced manufacturing and robotics training program, noted in its application that employers in Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties anticipate the program will directly support more than 100 new jobs. The application also said “the manufacturing sector provides thousands of good jobs and is anticipated to grow significantly over the next 10 years, with retirements and new growth due to the completion of the First Coast Expressway.”
Nearby, Florida State College at Jacksonville, which received $710,352 to enhance the Northeast Florida Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics Job Growth program, said it anticipates enrolling 75 participants, with 63 completing the program within one year, from which 80 percent — about 50 — will be placed in jobs.
The school also pointed out in its application that the First Coast Manufacturers Association said that “without this program, manufacturers will continue to struggle to find qualified workers, limiting the economic growth of our region and its people.”