Three years ago, Gov. Rick Scott came to St. Augustine, stood in front on an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft at Northrop Grumman’s factory here, crowing about the defense contractor’s $102 million in capital investment in the area.
That investment, which was also estimated to add 400 jobs in St. Augustine, came about, in part, through a partnership with Enterprise Florida and a $2.99-million economic development grant from the St. Johns County Commission.
On Friday, legislators in Tallahassee passed HB 7005 that would eliminate Enterprise Florida. Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Renner and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, St. Johns County’s representatives, both voted in favor of the bill. Also, HB 9 — a bill sponsored by Renner — was passed. The bill would place new restrictions on Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.
How the potential loss of Enterprise Florida will affect St. Johns County’s ability to land commercial investment like Northrop Grumman’s expansion project is unclear.
Isabelle Rodriguez, president of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is concerned that losing Enterprise Florida could have a detrimental effect.
“Access to marketing intelligence and workforce services for local economic development agencies and businesses has a direct impact on local business expansion and relocation,” Rodriguez said in an email to The Record. “Tools for business recruitment are critical to ensure Florida stays competitive.
“Eliminating these services would affect our state and local communities negatively. For these reasons, the scope of work and mission of Enterprise Florida should remain an important state priority.”
Melissa Glasgow, St. Johns County’s director of economic development, said that no matter what the state ultimately decides — the Senate must still act on the proposal — all previous deals will remain valid.
“If incentives were ultimately eliminated on a state level, any local projects with existing state incentive agreements in place such as Northrop Grumman and Advanced Disposal would be honored until they reach completion,” Glasgow said in an email to The Record.
Going forward, she said the county will be able to offer businesses that invest some tax incentives based on a formula created by the county.
“Our local Business Incentive Program is approved by the Board of County Commissioners and is separate from Enterprise Florida’s incentive program,” Glasgow said. “If EFI were no longer in existence, it would not affect our ability to support qualified businesses with performance-based incentives on a local level. In fact, Department of Economic Opportunity is the agency that ultimately approves incentive projects.”
The governor remained steadfast in his belief that Enterprise Florida is good for the state.
“Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism,” Scott said in a statement. “But, I want to be very clear — a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”
Scott has praised the work of Enterprise Florida for bringing big employers to the state or convincing current businesses to expand, like Northrop Grumman.
In addition to the expansion in St. Augustine, Northrop Grumman broke ground on a new 220,000-square-foot building at its Melbourne facility about three years ago and announced that it was creating another 1,000 jobs there.
“We’re extremely appreciative of the strong relationships we have with the state of Florida, EFI and the local communities where we work and live,” Northrop Grumman public relations specialist Jacqueline Jeransky said in an email to The Record on Thursday.
“Support via these partnerships has been vital in making the decision to continue to invest and grow in Florida.”
Stevenson said her responsibility is to the taxpayers of the state in explaining her decision to vote for HB 7005. She said both the governor and the Legislature have done things that make business better for the state and that it will continue to thrive.
“I don’t think the House is any less committed to economic development and job opportunities and making sure Florida is competitive,” she said. “I think the governor cares about jobs. I think the House cares about jobs. I think the Senate cares about jobs and the economy.
“I think the question that we will be answering is: How do we do the best we can with the limited resources we have to make Florida the best place to live, work and play?”
Renner has said that the Legislature’s job is to make economic growth possible through its business-friendly policies, benefiting all entrepreneurs equally rather than having Enterprise Florida choose which companies get benefits.
“We are doing things right,” Renner said during discussion of the bill on Thursday. “The governor and this Legislature deserve credit for moving us in the right direction toward a level playing field, a fertile area where everyone can benefit.
“What this bill accomplishes is putting us back on the path to fundamental principles that have made us an economic superpower and that grows jobs.”