After enjoying nearly a decade's worth of taxpayer-funded incentives, a prominent health research firm is considering leaving Florida, a move that could deal a crippling blow to Gov. Rick Scott's economic development agenda.
- Sanford-Burnham discussing turning over Orlando research facility to University of Florida
- Employees at facility would become state employees
- Gov. Scott wants few state employees, more taxpayer money to create private jobs
The firm, Sanford-Burnham, is in discussions with the University of Florida to turn its Orlando research facility over to the state-run school. Billed as the crown jewel of a fledgling biotech 'cluster' when state and local leaders agreed to a $320 million incentive package in 2006, the facility is home to more than 250 jobs that would revert to the state's payroll in the event of the firm's exit.
That prospect is doubly troubling for Scott, who has made cutting the state government workforce and using taxpayer money to incentivize businesses to create jobs centerpieces of his economic development efforts.
"This news that this firm might be leaving the state is not surprising," said Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO. "It's not the first time it's happened. It's going to continue to happen until legislators become the adults in the room."
The Republican-controlled Legislature has, in fact, already put the brakes on much of Scott's business incentive agenda, denying his request for $250 million in new incentive funding. Sanford-Burnham's departure would join a string of taxpayer-subsidized projects that have failed to deliver and lead to increased public skepticism about the merits of using public funds to ostensibly create private sector jobs.
The governor, a former health care executive, has close ties to the business community, and through his political committee has accepted millions of dollars in contributions from many of the same companies seeking state incentive funding. Despite claims by critics that Scott is perpetuating politically-influenced 'corporate welfare', he says his focus is on growing Florida's economy using widely accepted tools.
"We've got to look at how are we going to be competitive with other states that have programs where you can go out and incentivize companies to move or expand in your state," Scott said.