Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County News

Florida's Economic Development Czar Came to Columbia County - Really

Jim Poole (center) Columbia County Economic Development Director, with Grey Swoope, (left) CEO of Enterprise Florida and Bridget Merrill of Enterprise Florida (rt.). In the rear of the room to the right was the Customer Service Desk. At the rear was the Continental Breakfast bar.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Florida's Governor, Rick Scott, ran on a platform of economic development. While Gov. Scott was on the campaign trail he recognized that Tallahassee was a big part of Florida's problem. Scott rightly pointed out that in most areas of the national economic decline Florida led the way. Hungry for fresh economic development blood, Gov. Scott went to Mississippi, lassoed their Director of Economic Development and brought him to Florida. Last Monday, May 23, 2011, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, Gray Swoope, appeared at Enterprise Florida's Rural Issues Working Group meeting in Lake City - Really.

Earlier today, May 31, your reporter spoke with Columbia County Commissioner and chairperson of the County's Economic Development Committee, Rusty DePratter, and asked him if he knew Mr. Swoope was in town last week.

Commissioner DePratter, “Nobody told me.”

Meeting in the hotel lobby

Columbia County's homeless County Commission once again proved why folks in many parts of the civilized world snicker when they hear "Columbia County." Enterprise Florida's Rural Issues Working Group met in the lobby of Lake City's Comfort Suites, in front of the continental breakfast buffet and off to the side of the motel's courtesy desk. At times, it was almost impossible to hear the speakers above the din of the checking in and checking out.

Representatives of the Working Group came from all areas of the state: Tallahassee, Okeechobee, Jacksonville, Calhoun County and other places.

The meeting began with Columbia County's longtime Economic Development Director, Jim Poole, handing out a 2004 report called, "Summary Report from the Florida Rural Economic Development Summit." The report was prepared by Fairfield Index, Inc.

Mr. Poole explained to Enterprise Florida's Mr. Swoope that he was going over the report for Mr. Swoope's benefit and that the seven step plan outlined in the report "Has served us well. We have continued to work on our infrastructure, very slowly in the rural areas, but we are making some progress."

A look at North Central Florida's RACEC site, (Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern), shows that nothing has gone on there for years, redefining the word "slow" for the folks in North Central Florida.

Florida's Economic Czar, Grey Swoope, speaks

Jim Poole introduced Grey Swoope, "Grey comes to us from a state [Mississippi] that is predominantly rural with a touch of suburban. He may be the first CEO of Enterprise Florida that truly understands the challenges that we face in rural Florida."

Mr. Swoope, the governor's right-hand economic development man was plainspoken and straightforward, except for one question.

He began, "Instead of a lot of talking I want to have some dialogue with this group and hear your ideas. I think I've completed eight weeks now -- it seems like eight years. During the last eight weeks I focused my time on getting to know the folks at Enterprise Florida and OTTED and how all this fits together."

"I've been focusing on reorganization and at the same time I've been out and about the state with Gov. Scott. We want to look at how we can realign the process and streamline it. All the agencies that touch the customer should be at the table. We are working on that."

"I want to touch on the public -- private partnerships. Sports foundations and Black Businesses Investment Council, they will become part of Enterprise Florida. They will be divisions inside Enterprise Florida that will focus on sports and minority business. That is in the process of happening now."

"Visit Florida will now be under the umbrella of Enterprise Florida. I don't intend to micromanage, but to work together. The same with Space Florida. How do we work with Space Florida? Enterprise Florida board members will also be board members for Space Florida. We need to understand how that works. We cannot afford to disrupt the work and have it come to a halt. We cannot disrupt their work. As we ease through this year we are going to be a better functioning state team for economic development."

"It's time for our state to be very proactive in its business development."

"We're looking at our trade opportunities. Foreign investment opportunities. The Governor is leading a mission to Canada in June. The Governor will be in Montréal and Toronto being aggressive as a state."

"We will be participating in BIO, which is in Washington DC. That's one of our focuses in life sciences. We will be there and have an aggressive presence as well."

Building Florida

"I call it good old-fashioned product development -- Just looking at our product and the state and how we improve upon it. If you look at the rural areas of our state and what you are doing with the catalyst sites -- That is product development. How do we improve on it?"

"We [Enterprise Florida] should be the lead sales organization in the state. And to be a lead sales organization you have to know the product."

"One of the buzzwords today, and we used it a lot in Mississippi, is asset development.

Go in and look at your rural community. What are the assets that are there that can help drive the economy? Each of your regions will have very different assets that can drive that economic engine.

I'm excited to be here. I know that I need to get out into the community and the different regions – patience please. I'm excited about working with you. This is a great state. We are going to have a team put together, quickly, so that I can work with you, our partners, on the local level and on the regional level to sell the state.

Any questions? Only the Observer asked.

The Observer: "In the rural communities, education and health care are very important when people look to move their businesses. In the rural communities, particularly this one [Columbia], and other ones, how much of a part do you feel education plays in affecting the importation of high tech companies? Coming from Mississippi you know, obviously, what the problems are."

Mr. Swoope – did he skirt the question?

Mr. Swoope:  "I kinda look at the reverse. Every time it gets back to understanding the customer. What their needs are. You always sell your competitive strengths. Every part of our state is different and so there is going to be some areas that have certain strengths that other areas are not going to have and vice versa."

"We are going to have to understand who is our target audience, what we're going to do and education is a part of everything we do, no matter where you are in the state."

In Columbia County, with an illiteracy rate approaching 30%, education is not a competitive strength to sell.


Once again, in the land of the homeless County Commission, Columbia County dropped the ball. Community leaders and public servants from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to Ocala and other communities within a few hour's drive of Lake City, missed a golden opportunity to sit down at the table with Gov. Scott's right hand man and Florida's new economic development czar.

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

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.


More on Columbia County Economic Development:

Plum Creek on the move in Columbia County $190 million,  75 long term jobs on the docket (November 18, 2011)

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)

Economic Development in their own words (Jan 24, 2011)

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

County & IDA Drop the Ball - Again (Jan 05, 2011)

Columbia County's inland port decades late (Jan 03, 2010)

Columbia County ranks 5th in the nation in the unemployed (Dec 18, 2010)

IDA Continues sub par under County management (Nov 29, 2010)

County Economic Development
Making it up as they go along
(Oct 06, 2010)

Lake City Planning for Future Downtown - County Commission MIA (June 25, 2010)

The Great Columbia County Dog and Pony Show (June 02, 2010)

IDA Rudderless • Web presence a mess (Feb 02, 2010)