Enterprise Florida was hit with a major funding reduction in the 2017 legislative session. One of the concerns is how local development agencies will fare with less state money.
The state's economic development arm is getting around $17 million in fiscal year 2018, compared to the $24 million in this year’s spending.
“As I understand it the current budget has funds in for Enterprise Florida primarily for operations only,” said Scott Luth, President of Florida West, the economic development agency serving the western Panhandle.
Along with the funding reduction, Luth says there are also some new hoops for local development groups to jump through.
“There is definitely a required [funding] match, which does create a situation where it’s a little bit unknown what the actual figure coming out of the legislature’s going to be this year.”
Florida West and similar groups around the state are monitoring the activity surrounding the budget, in part through the Florida Economic Development Council. As with Visit Florida, the state’s tourism wing whose budget has been cut by two-thirds, House Speaker Richard Corcoran was the front man in trimming Enterprise Florida.
“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.”
Upon passage of the bill cutting Enterprise Florida, Gov. Rick Scott proclaimed that “Florida is now out of the economic development business.”
Florida West’s Scott Luth says the Governor could be right.
“You look at the companies that can truly locate and invest capital anywhere in the United States if they want to, and they can be successful in multiple states,” said Luth. “And Florida doesn’t have those programs, we are out of business as it relates to those projects.”
Another question yet to be answered is whether Gov. Rick Scott will sign the $82.4 billion dollar, with or without using the line-item veto, or veto the entire spending plan over cuts to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,. Luth says the latter is possible.
“[Scott] has made numerous trips around the state, looking for support,” Luth said. “So I do think that’s something he’s probably considering.”
And now the question locals are asking: how would such a cut to Enterprise Florida’s funding impact Florida West projects, both underway and still on the drawing board? For starters, Luth says they would see a reduction in outreach from the state level.
“What that means is, if we’re going to continue operating at the same level as in the past, that’s just going to put more pressure on local budgets to begin to make up that difference,” said Luth. “We’re going to have to travel more, and do more outreach if we’re willing to have the same amount of exposure.”
And as if Enterprise Florida doesn’t have enough problems, it’s also looking for a new leader. Chris Hart resigned in March, citing a “critical” difference of opinion with Gov. Scott.