For the past 16 years, more than $80 million in state incentives backed by taxpayer money helped recruit and subsidize companies creating nearly 20,000 jobs in the Tampa Bay area.
The cost of those jobs varies wildly by business and in each county. Those differences reflect the higher price tag that can be required to attract certain types of coveted firms that bring higher-paying jobs to Florida, as well as the premiums required to lure businesses to certain counties.
In more than 200 deals since 1996 by Enterprise Florida in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, the largest sum handed over to an avidly sought firm is $19.6 million to California's elite research firm SRI International. In 2009 SRI opened a marine research facility in downtown St. Petersburg. The number of SRI jobs documented by the state so far: 86.
In Hillsborough, the greatest number of jobs created by state incentives is 1,395 by Chase Bank Card Services in a 1997 deal. The bank received state funds of $4.7 million. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center received the richest incentive deal in the county in 2007 valued at $15.5 million to encourage both the establishment of its for-profit M2Gen subsidiary and the potential attraction of related biotech firms. Jobs documented so far: 155.
Details of these and other deals by Enterprise Florida, the state's job recruiting arm, are contained in a database updated this month by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. These figures reflect incentives provided by the state and do not include any additional county, city or other local incentives that may be attached to sweeten some deals. Incentives typically are handed out once a business creates a promised number of jobs and maintains those positions for at least one year, usually longer.
The state data offer some regional insights. Hillsborough dominates the Tampa Bay area with 14,000 jobs from 99 of the 210 incentive deals. The state's cost per job actually created in Hillsborough: $3,796.
While Pinellas attracted nearly as many deals, they were smaller and produced only 5,525 jobs. That reflects the challenge facing Florida's most densely populated county when competing to recruit bigger companies seeking scarce chunks of larger acreage. The state's cost per job actually created in Pinellas: $5,597.
Pasco cut just 14 deals with state incentives. Only three of those businesses generated enough jobs, a combined 79, to receive a portion of the state funds committed to them. The state's cost per job actually created in Pasco: $1,699.
And Hernando landed eight deals with 35 jobs. Sign manufacturer Accuform was recruited last year with $50,000 and has received about half that sum, the DEO says. The state's cost per job in this county: $707.
In many of these subsidized deals, the state may still make available additional incentives if and when a business generates more jobs. Those changes will be reflected in upcoming updates supplied by the DEO.
The statewide database shows that 1,254 companies have taken advantage of state incentives since 1996. The firms promised the largest state incentives are medical and biotech firms and include $155 million to the Burnham Institute in Orlando, $94 million to the Max Planck Institute in Palm Beach County and $80 million to the University of Miami (despite already being based in Florida) for life science research.
Many businesses offered state incentives never received any funds because they did not deliver on the number of jobs originally promised.
State lawmakers in 1992 formed Enterprise Florida to help create 200,000 higher-paying, high-tech jobs by 2005. Eight years past that deadline, Enterprise Florida remains less than halfway to meeting its jobs goal.
Still, Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida want to more than double the available pool of economic development incentives to $278 million from $111 million.
That subject is a sore one with critics of Enterprise Florida.
"Floridians have entrusted Enterprise Florida with significant public resources to deliver high quality job creation results, yet the organization has failed to accomplish its goals," says Dan Krassner, executive director in Tallahassee of a recently formed research and government watchdog group called Integrity Florida. "Floridians need to see independent and credible evidence that the Enterprise Florida incentives strategy has a net benefit to taxpayers."
Toward that end, some Florida lawmakers are pushing to reform the state's economic incentive programs. Measures would require greater transparency about the tax breaks companies have received to create jobs and shrink some that don't work. Last week, a Senate panel distilled several economic development bills that would require all the assorted tax incentives, rebate and credit programs to undergo more economic review every three years.
That goal of accountability is commendable but may prove elusive. Recruiting companies with taxpayer funds is a booming — perhaps "cutthroat" is the better word — business played aggressively nationwide by many states. And by many of their political leaders.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.