Fate of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida Agencies Uncertain After Legislative Hearing


Tampa Bay Business Journal

Written by Margie Manning

A Florida legislative panel has approved a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida along with several tax incentives for businesses.

The Florida House Subcommittee on Careers and Competition  voted for the measure on Wednesday, backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land-O’Lakes) and opposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill would eliminate the Qualified Target Industries and Quick Action Closing Fund programs, which have provided tax breaks for companies that create jobs. The incentives have been awarded to Tampa Bay companies such as Cott Corp. (NYSE: COT), which said it would create 60 new jobs and invest $800,000 to expand its Hillsborough County headquarters, and Blue Line Associates, which said it would create 150 new jobs and invest $2 million, as it relocates its headquarters from Cary, North Carolina to Tampa.

The incentives are not paid until the companies fulfill their promises, according to economic development officials.

Incentives are a bad deal for taxpayers because they “steal money” from priorities such as public safety, roads and bridges, and education, said Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), the sponsor of the legislation. They also disproportionately benefit larger companies over smaller ones, he said.

“When we give money to one company we disadvantage their competitors,” Renner said. “We don’t asses in our return on investment the negative impact on many businesses, competitors and especially our small businesses.”

Much of the testimony at the nearly two-hour hearing was in opposition to the bill, including from economic development officials and business owners in Tampa Bay. Among those speaking were Mike Meidel, Pinellas County Economic Development director, and Maryann Ferenc, co-owner of Mise en Place in Tampa.

Economic development is all about creating opportunity for every business in Florida, Meidel said.

“We don’t target winners and losers. We create winners for everybody. We do that by identifying companies that sell their product or service outside of the state of Florida. They bring that new money into our economy and distribute it through the payrolls of their high-wage employees to buy locally,” Meidel said.

Ferenc brought a stack of letters opposing the bill from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Tampa Downtown Partnership and her employees who are concerned about the impact of eliminating Visit Florida, the state agency that promotes tourism.

“If tourism declines, my business declines and it sincerely scares me,” Ferenc said.

The measure passed the House subcommittee by a vote of 10 in favor and five opposed. The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the issue Thursday when it has a hearing on the governor’s budget.