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Instead of creating jobs, Enterprise Florida is cutting them

Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his jobs public-relations tour in March with a game of corn hole at the Capitol, where he asked others to lobby lawmakers for him. The Legislature didn’t go along.
Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his jobs public-relations tour in March with a game of corn hole at the Capitol, where he asked others to lobby lawmakers for him. The Legislature didn’t go along. Office of the governor

The agency Gov. Rick Scott has prized as an essential job-recruiting tool took major steps in reforming itself Friday.

Just three months after the Legislature refused to give Scott $250 million to hand out as incentives to lure more companies to the state, Enterprise Florida’s board of directors agreed to a major shakeup that includes cutting 26 employees, reducing office space in Tallahassee and Miami, and eliminating its international footprint in markets like China and Japan where the return on investment was poor.

Those were among 14 actions taken Friday that officials say will cut the agency’s expenses by at least $4.7 million. The biggest savings come from cutting employees. The Enterprise Florida board estimates it will save more than $2.1 million by cutting staff.

The moves come just a week after the agency’s highly paid leader’s tenure officially ended a year before his contract was up. Bill Johnson, who earned $265,000 a year plus a $50,000 bonus, triggered a $132,500 severance package in his contract when Scott abruptly announced in March he would no longer lead Enterprise Florida. Johnson had a contract that was supposed to run through June 30, 2017.

Friday’s actions were expected after an outside consultant issued a stinging report in May that labeled the agency “top heavy,” said it spends too much on office space, needed to rein in travel costs and lacked sufficient checks and balances to prevent potential fraud.

Scott, who was on the Friday conference call when the board agreed to the changes, said while he is proud of the work the state has done in improving the job market in Florida, the Legislature’s actions are forcing the state to change its approach.

“We’re going to have to do things differently,” Scott said.

The Republican-led Legislature has become increasingly skeptical of Enterprise Florida. The Legislature earlier this year debated a series of reforms to better track spending by the quasi-government agency before killing Scott’s request for $250 million for job incentives. And incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has promised more scrutiny, saying earlier this year that the state government’s overall role in commerce needs to be re-examined.

Created in 1996, Enterprise Florida is a private-public partnership that acts like a commerce department. When it started, the vision was for a more nimble agency than a typical government bureaucracy. It was proposed to have a 50-50 split between public and private funding. In reality, the agency relies on taxpayers for more than 90 percent of its costs.

At Friday’s meeting, the board also agreed to reduce its sponsorship of promotional events around the world by $772,000, eliminate $620,000 in consulting contracts and change reimbursement rates for employee travel to match what other government agencies offer, saving $150,000 a year.

While the Legislature refused to give Scott the incentive funding, Enterprise Florida is still set to receive nearly $24 million in state funding as part of the $82 billion budget that went into effect Friday.

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