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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rick Scott closes Florida for business

From the St. Petersburg Times

By Robert Trigaux

Did Florida really sign up for a fool's game of trying to make Florida the cheapest place to do business? It feels like it, given the obsession of our new state leadership.

If Florida costs less, if business regulations are severely pruned, will businesses really flock here? It sounded good during the desperate unemployment days of the governor's race. Pounded upon in unending TV ads, that message — I'll make Florida irresistible for businesses that come here and create jobs, jobs, jobs — was powerful enough, buoyed by $70 million in personal spending, to give Rick Scott his own job as Florida's new governor.

Rarely a day goes by when Scott does not remind us he's making phone calls, personally telling company executives in cold-weather, higher-tax states that pro-business Florida is open for, well, business. If Scott gets his way, he reasons, there soon won't be any state tax on businesses here. So come on down!

At last check of our state border, there's no backup of corporate moving vans clamoring to get into Florida.

Yes, we're only 100 days or so into the Scott era. His mantra — Florida, we're cheapest — is still new. So maybe those vans are still packing up North for the trip, or maybe waiting for gas prices to drop.

More likely, Scott will find business executives elsewhere are not simpletons.

Execs may like the idea of lower taxes or fewer rules. A few firms might trickle down to Florida, especially if they get sweeteners from state incentive funds. The governor wants $427 million, money meant for roads and affordable housing, to fund state incentives to lure jobs.

But most business executives will balk at moving here for other reasons.

They will furrow their brows at the state's public schools, never much of a selling point to a Corporate America looking for the best-educated workers, and see turmoil and cuts.

They will search for a world-class university system and see only cutbacks and calls for big increases in tuition.

They will scan the polls that reveal how our state leaders are scorned. They will wince at recent passage of legislation so self-serving that officials can now wallow at the trough of unlimited contributions.

They will worry about a housing market in Florida where prices are still falling and question if their own workers would like buying into such an unstable market.

They will fret over employees and how moving here could subject them to chaos, like property insurance rates that state leaders insist must dramatically increase for the sake of a healthy insurers' market.

And they will look at Florida wages — stagnant at best — and ask: Is the state dynamic or diminished?

Sorry, Scott. Doesn't sound like a Business Eden in the making to me.

Nor is Scott alone in trying to lure businesses on the cheap. Other states are playing their own siren songs of cutting business costs while recruiting across borders.

There's always a cheaper place somewhere else.

Should Florida try to make itself less costly than Mexico or China or India? Where's the beef in only touting our cheap business climate?

Sure, people want jobs, jobs, jobs. But they want them with reliable services, competitive schools and quality of life.

Businesses, like people, want three-dimensional states.

Contact Robert Trigaux at

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