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Florida's Economic Development Czar Speaks - Musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic?


Florida's Economic Development Czar, Grey Swoope, standing, addresses the movers and shakers of the North Florida Economic Development Partnership.

On July 15, 2011, the board of directors of the North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP), a consortium of 14 North Central rural counties, met at the Suwannee River Water Management District for their annual meeting. The featured speaker was Gov. Scott's right hand, economic development czar, President and CEO of Enterprise Florida, Grey Swoope, most recently from Mississippi. Mr. Swoope's Southern charm could not mask his discovery of the massive lack of coherence in Florida's economic development program, personnel and its lack of past substantive accomplishments.

Days Of Discovery

Mr. Swoope told the crowd of county commissioners, lobbyists, county managers, county economic development directors, members of workforce boards and Workforce Florida (WFI), Chamber’s of Commerce members, FSU’s Institute of Government, NFBA, and some folks from the newly formed Department of Economic Opportunities, “This is a very big state.”

Mr. Swoope continued, telling the group that he was out and about getting to know the local leadership, talking to community leaders and elected officials.

He said: I’m listening; I’m learning; I’m coming to groups like you. I’m trying to get a good feel on how we are doing from an economic development perspective. We need good information as we pull our state team together. My first week on the job was the third week of the legislative session. It’s kind of been a surprise to me -- this is a very rural state in a lot of places.

Before Mr. Swoope arrived in Florida, what was Florida doing?

Mr. Swoope continued: We have to have a strategy for both urban and rural economic development. You have to have the big picture.

Mr. Swoope said, “It’s striking to me that we just haven’t taken advantage of the numerous resources in the state. You have to be customer focused. We have to be laser focused on the customer.”

Mr. Swoope told the group that the incentive process has to be seamless. “It’s a very cumbersome process. It’s one of the things that we, as a state, have to work on.

Mr. Swoope continued explaining what every Economic Development 101 student should already know: You sell your strength. You never talk down a client about the competition. You never never bad mouth the competition.

“I can tell you how other states hammer Florida. They hammer us by saying, if you locate here I guarantee you that we will be able to deliver this proposal on time, on budget and I'll get the approval with in a week. You can't do it here,” he said.

Who was running the show before the real training began last week? Were millions of dollars in salaries and benefits going to the clueless? The Economic Czar continued.

Mr. Swoope spoke about OTTED, Enterprise Florida and the new Department Of Economic Opportunities, telling the room, Florida has great people in that division "and we have great people at Enterprise Florida. We want to work together to build a seamless process.”

He asked, “How do you do that?”

He answered “training begins next week.”

Mr. Swoope: Next week we have our first joint sales training together. People from that new division, people from Enterprise Florida and legislative staffers all at the table together with outside consultants coming in, working with us -- on how we need to compete with other states and how we sell together -- because we have to.

No one asked why nobody knew how to do this before.

It wasn’t too many rules and regulations that hindered job growth in Florida. It was the people that were and for the most part are still running the Economic Development show.

Economic Development 101 continued: When we go back to the client and we're all at the table. It doesn't matter if they're from the new division, from Enterprise Florida, from the locals. They know this is our economic development team. It is our team that is there to sell the state and its communities -- creating jobs.

Mr. Swoope told the crowd that if we are going to get 700,000 jobs in seven years you have to be a business friendly state.

How are we doing - Really?

Mr. Swoope said if you ask CEOs which is the best they could do business with “most recently, we’re number two in the country. If you look at the tax foundation and how we’re improving -- we’re number five.”

Then he said, “We have a ways to go. Where we get hammered most is in business friendliness. And it's the process on how we go about being competitive. Those things really impact organic growth of jobs.”

He continued, “Our team has to figure out how to use our resources -- to maximize them. One of the ways to do that is through regional efforts. We have to have regional teams, local teams working with us in order to accomplish our mission.”

Who is Florida’s Competition? The more nimble.

Mr. Swoope:  People compare us with New York, California and Texas. We do a lot of benchmarking with those states because of our size, but in economic development we don't compete with those states. Maybe Texas every now and then. We certainly don't compete with New York or California, as far as our competition for jobs.  We compete with smaller more nimble  states straight up the road here. In Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Panhandle -- Alabama and Mississippi. Those states because of their size are  nimble and flexible. They can be laser focused on their mission of economic development. They are very very competitive. Those are states that believed in putting emphasis behind economic development over the years.

Florida -- He should have just said it -- A sorry, sorry state.

Mr. Swoope said it all in his answers to a few questions after his presentation.

Mr. Swoope: We do not spend a lot of time understanding what our competitive strengths are; where the weaknesses are; what is our competition doing?... The first step is to get our team where we are thinking about how to be positioned in Florida...  In this state the economy was booming. There was three or four percent unemployment. Nobody cared about economic development... Now we're at 10.6% [unemployment]. People are listening. It is now time to put up a team that can sell the state when (and as) the economy comes back... One of the things we'll do next Thursday, we’ll also do some competitive analysis of how we stack up, because typically in Tallahassee, we compare ourselves because of size with these other states that we really don't compete with.

The training should have began last Thursday.

Epilogue

Time will tell if Florida’s Governor and his Economic Development Czar are playing musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Columbia County Economic Development: Will Lake City continue as the "red-headed step child?" (August 4, 2011)

Workforce Florida, streamlining by adding another layer of bureaucracy: Cost $750,000 (July 27, 2011)

FL Economic Development Czar Speaks - Musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic? (July 24, 2011)

Columbia County: Garbage Capital of North Central Florida? (June 7, 2011)

Tallahassee: Economic Development Legislative Session Wrap-up (May 31, 2011)

Florida's Economic Development Czar Came to Columbia County - Really (May 31, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development Blowin' in the wind - 20 years too late (March 2, 2011)

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FL Enterprise Zones under the gun (Jan 23, 2011)

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