Clowns are fired but Ringling’s company can still get $3.7 million for creating jobs

A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown balances a hat on his nose during a pre show for fans Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Orlando.
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown balances a hat on his nose during a pre show for fans Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Orlando. AP

The parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey can still collect up to $3.7 million from state and local government for job creation even after it announced one of the state’s largest layoffs since 2015.

Feld Entertainment’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” will take a final bow in May that will cost 462 people — including dozens of Floridians — their jobs. Out of the nearly 200 companies that have announced layoffs in Florida the past two years, Feld’s will be the sixth largest.

Yet despite the setback, Feld will continue to collect millions for job creation because it classifies 400 of the lost jobs as “based on the road.”

These are traveling jobs. Even though many who hold the jobs live in Florida, the jobs themselves are on the road for nearly the entire year.

“They are not Florida-based jobs and therefore do not count as part of the incentive calculation,” said Casey Rodgers, vice president of Financial and Strategic Planning for Feld.

Even if the lost jobs did count against the agreements, company officials said they’d be outweighed by all the other new jobs they are creating.

“Feld Entertainment will hit all of their job creation goals, as outlined in our agreement,” said Stephen Yaros, senior vice president of global public relations for Feld Entertainment, Inc. “We are currently creating more jobs at a faster pace and at a higher average wage than anticipated.”

Besides Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, Feld’s brands include Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, Monster Energy AMA Supercross, and Marvel Universe LIVE!

Those who work with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus crisscross the country on a mile-long train that carries not just the performers but also the animals, their feed and a 24-hour dining operation called the Pie Car. Children go to school on the train and there is a day-care operation. They are housed in cars set up like efficiency apartments. Electricians, mechanics and animal tenders are on board to keep things running.

The circus’ first female ringmaster, 35-year-old Florida native Kristen Wilson, said living on the train has been an eye-opening experience. She called it a “city without a ZIP code” and compared it to an apartment building that’s horizontal.

State officials say they will closely scrutinize Feld’s job creation numbers — and the Ringling reductions — just like they do on all job incentive funds. But such a review could take years. When a company reports its job creation numbers, the state has independent auditors to analyze the figures to make sure the state got the promised jobs, said Morgan L. McCord, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

State officials verified that Feld created 184 state jobs through 2014. Feld said it reported hitting 563 at the end of 2015, but state officials said they are still verifying those numbers.

Feld has collected about $1 million from the state so far. Additional payments depend on proving job creation numbers. If goals aren’t met, McCord said the state would stop paying and could even claw back previous payments, as it’s done in 30 other cases over the years.

Gov. Rick Scott has worked to reform job incentives to make sure only companies who create them get funding, said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott.

“To compete and win in a national and international market, Florida must use every available tool, including economic incentives, to bring jobs home for those who need a job the most,” Lewis said.

That has not stopped the state Legislature from gutting incentive programs. Last year Scott asked for $250 million in incentives. The Legislature refused to give him anything. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has called incentives “corporate welfare.”

The incentives aren’t necessarily requiring Feld to create jobs that last.

Take the first of two deals with the state. Signed in 2011, it called for Feld to move 235 jobs from its former Virginia headquarters to Ellenton near Bradenton. The agreement didn’t say whether those jobs needed to be new — or merely exported from Virginia. Those jobs were to be added to 148 that already existed in Manatee County. Combined, the 383 jobs were required an average $66,000 wage and were supposed to remain through December 31, 2019.

In exchange, the company gets $1.8 million from the state.

Feld’s second deal was signed in 2015. This time, the company agreed to move its motor sports division from Illinois to Ellenton and create 200 jobs by the end of 2019 with an average wage of $72,000. In return, the company will get $1.4 million.

Local governments agreed to pay an additional $500,000 of incentives.

Feld’s Ellenton headquarters opened in 2013 in a complex that includes a single building that is second only to NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building in size in Florida.

The $8.35 million complex houses a “graveyard” of monster trucks, a field of billboards, circus trains in various stages of rehab and repair, and thousands of glittery costumes that date to the 1970s. There are two dozen Monster Jam trucks, each worth about $300,000. There’s room for two full NHL-sized rinks in operation at the same time for Disney ice shows to practice. Then there are racks upon racks of more than 10,000 bedazzled costumes with dozens of crates of dancing shoes, feathered headdresses and show hats tended to by a crew of milliners and tailors.

The site includes 100,000 square feet of office space with an additional 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It was originally developed by the Siemens Corp. and most recently occupied by General Electric.