With 2017 in the rearview mirror at Florida West, WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody looks at the challenges on the horizon for 2018 in part two of his report on local economic development.
Many of the projects and initiatives begun by Florida West in 2017 will continue to progress this year. And to hear CEO Scott Luth tell it, 2018 is hitting the ground running.
“We are working with a number of light manufacturing companies that are considering the community,” Luth says. “Now it’s a matter of finalizing those projects and hopefully getting those commitments to expand or to locate in Escambia County.”
One holdover from the previous year is the continued evolution of Florida West’s cybersecurity plan.
“Now it’s going to be a matter of implementing that strategy, so I think that’s going to be a little bit new and different,” said Luth. “We’re also looking at expanding the amount of square footage we have for our small business incubator in 2018 to allow us to serve and support more companies.”
Florida West and similar agencies around the state are keeping a close eye on the legislative session now underway. Of particular interest is funding for Enterprise Florida. It received around $17 million in the new budget – compared to $24 million the previous fiscal year.
“Allowing them to continue to market and support the things we do in the state, and have the programs available and the tools that are necessary to keep our companies here and keep our companies growing,” said Luth.
Gov. Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are at odds about the future of Enterprise Florida. The House blocked Scott’s request for $85 million for business incentives last year. Corcoran called it “corporate welfare.”
“Should government be interjecting itself into the free market [and] competing with businesses, and re-engineering and saying ‘we know who to pick as a winner, who to pick as a loser?” asked Corcoran. “No.”
A compromise was reached, that created an $85 million funding pool for job training and infrastructure projects aimed at beefing up economic development.
However, at last check there’s been only one grant awarded, for just over $200,000 to fund workforce training at Manatee Technical College in Bradenton, according to a spokeswoman for the fund.
Rick Scott is termed out this year, and his mantra since his first election in 2010 has been jobs, jobs, jobs.
“Every time [Scott] spoke, every time you heard him talk about it that was his focus” said Florida West’s Scott Luth. “Obviously in a community and a state that saw such a downturn with the recession, it was an appropriate strategy and I think a very successful strategy over the last eight years.”
Luth says at the grassroots level, they enjoy what he calls a really good relationship with governments in looking to the future.
“How do we grow industry, how do we continue to support our existing industry base that’s here, and our business base that’s here?” asked Luth. “And also look for opportunities to bring more development. And I think that partnership’s going to continue.”
But, among the concerns at Florida West is the upcoming exodus out of the local legislative delegation. Rep. Clay Ingram is termed out in District-1, and Rep. Frank White is giving up the District-2 seat to run for Attorney General.
There could also be new faces in the Pensacola Mayor’s office and on the Pensacola City Council -- while at least one newcomer will be elected to the Escambia County Commission.