Florida governor reaches outside state to lure jobs

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

J Pat Carter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A candidate in a sour economy, who is now governor in a still-recovering Florida, Rick Scott has made job creation his signature political theme. But lately, Scott has added a new tactic in his drive to add jobs: Poaching.

Florida’s Republican chief executive has sent letters to hundreds of business leaders in five states with Democratic governors, urging them to flee what he condemns as higher taxes and costlier regulatory environments and bring their companies to the Sunshine State.

Looking to make good on his 2010 campaign promise of creating 700,000 jobs in Florida over seven years, Scott’s “one-way ticket” campaign is targeting companies in California, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota for relocation pitches.

“They constantly seem like they want to raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes,” Scott said. “That’s great for us. They’re making it more difficult for their companies to compete. We want them all to come to Florida.”

Companies in California, led by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, are among the most diverse and potentially lucrative in Scott’s sights. But a spokesman for Brown’s Office of Business and Economic Development shrugged off the impact of the appeal.

Besides, Brook Taylor said Scott’s pitch was nothing new. Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry attempted a similar come-on earlier this year with radio ads.

“Gov. Scott is not the first Rick to roll into town,” Taylor said. “But when you’re the largest job-creating state in the nation, it’s no surprise people take notice. Still, no governor has poached his way to success when it comes to jobs.”

Connecticut’s Commission-er of Economic and Community Development, Catherine Smith, said that she was for- warded Scott’s letter from a CEO in her state. “I can’t tell how much this is about getting companies to move to Florida or the governor just getting attention.”

Scott’s attempts to lure out-of-state businesses come as many of his policies are seen through the prism of his burgeoning re-election campaign.

In signing the state’s $74.1 billion budget last month, Scott’s letter accompanying the act boasted that he is close to the halfway mark on the 700,000 jobs.

The state has added 285,100 jobs since he took office in January 2011, according to the state’s Department of Employment Opportunity.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley also ran on a job creation platform. At the halfway point in her tenure, the S.C. Commerce Department had announced 31,514 new jobs.

Florida unemployment fell to 7.2 percent in April, that state’s lowest rate in five years, down from 10.9 percent when Scott was sworn in.

By contrast, California’s jobless rate was 9 percent in April; Connecticut’s, 8 percent. Unemployment nationwide ticked slightly upward in May to 7.6 percent, says the federal Labor Department.

Scott, though, isn’t aiming at states only with workforce statistics more troubling than Florida’s. Only 5.3 percent of Minnesotans were without a job in April. But Scott seized on last month’s decision by state lawmakers there to increase income taxes for the top 2 percent of earners.

Madeline Koch, with Minnesota’s Department of Em-ployment and Economic Development, said Scott’s letters haven’t caused a stir. Koch said she thought most Minnesota companies were content to stay in a state known for a strong workforce and good education system, qualities Scott challenged in his letter to executives.

But Scott, a multimillionaire former health care executive, said his sales pitch is simple — and direct.

“I’m saying (to companies), ‘Why should you do business in Florida? Why should you move your corporate office here? Why should you move your plant here? Why should you move your regional office here?’ ” Scott said.

Florida’s governor also insisted he wasn’t merely focused on jobs in states governed by Democrats.

“I tell people all across the country, my goal is to make this the number one place where you can do business, where you can get a job, where your children can get a great education, and you can afford to live,” Scott said.

Florida’s lack of a state income tax, its improving education system, rise in housing starts and strong credit rating helped by reduced debt under Scott are all highlighted in the governor’s letters. But job creation is a relentless task for Scott, who has pinned his political career to it.

Economists forecast Florida is seeing the re-entry of thousands of workers who formerly had given up and disappeared from the unemployment roll.

“People are looking again and they will start showing up as unemployed,” said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist. “That makes the unemployment rate go up, which would not be something Gov. Scott wants to see.”

Although he hasn’t landed companies yet from the recent feelers, Scott has had some big-ticket successes in getting companies to move to Florida or expand here.

Last month, he announced Hertz Corp. was moving its worldwide headquarters from New Jersey to Southwest Florida, bringing 700 jobs. Virginia’s Northrop Grumman Corp. is opening two design and research centers.