Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (HB 5) late Wednesday to rearrange Florida’s economic development programs, reverting the Department of Economic Opportunity back to its old name as the Department of Commerce and shuttering Enterprise Florida, the public-private business development group.
The measure is a partial reverse of a 30-year movement that began under Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in the 1990s to develop public-private partnerships to engage in economic development — luring businesses to Florida to help it decrease its reliance on tourism and growth.
“Florida continues to be the nation’s top destination for new businesses, workforce development and tourism, and streamlining our economic development programs in the Florida Department of Commerce will further support Florida’s thriving economy,” DeSantis said in a released statement.
The bill shutters Enterprise Florida and moves some of its functions into the Department of Commerce. VISIT FLORIDA, a public-private tourism marketing group, keeps its governing structure intact but moves it under the Department of Commerce as a direct support organization.
House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, pushed for the measure as one of his top priorities. In his speech on the opening day of the Regular Session in March, he said Enterprise Florida had “overpromised and underdelivered.”
“Floridians deserve a level playing field that empowers local entrepreneurs to thrive,” Renner said in a released statement. “Gov. DeSantis is championing good stewardship of taxpayer’s hard-earned money by eliminating wasteful entities like Enterprise Florida. By establishing the new Department of Commerce, we will embark on a revitalized mission to strategically pave the way towards an even brighter future.”
DeSantis has tapped Alex Kelly, one of his Deputy Chiefs of Staff, to serve as the new Secretary of Commerce.
The move marks a major change from how Republicans, in charge of the Legislature since the mid-1990s, viewed Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA until 2017.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott cherished the programs as vital job-creating agencies that helped Florida rebound from the depths of the Great Recession. Scott led the push to create the Department of Economic Opportunity in 2011, combining three legacy agencies. But in 2017 he battled then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, when Corcoran pushed to eliminate Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA. Scott ultimately prevailed but lawmakers imposed new transparency requirements on VISIT FLORIDA and eliminated some of the incentive programs used by Enterprise Florida to entice businesses to move or expand in the state.
DeSantis, though, hasn’t defended the programs in the same way, and GOP lawmakers don’t place as much importance on economic development as the unemployment rate stands at 2.6% and the state continues to attract new residents.