Florida agency that recruits jobs will soon be cutting them

- Fresh off a stinging rebuke by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, the state's economic development agency will move ahead with a plan to lay off roughly a third of its employees.

The Enterprise Florida board agreed Wednesday at a meeting in Naples to begin streamlining the operations of the 20-year outfit that is responsible for trying to lure companies to the state. Enterprise Florida is supposed to share expenses between private companies and taxpayers, but the state has been picking up most of the $34 million cost to run it.

Gov. Rick Scott called for changes to the organization after state legislators this spring rejected his request for a $250 million fund that could be used to entice corporations to relocate from other states.

A former top aide to Scott came up with a proposal to eliminate 27 jobs and $6 million in annual spending.

David Wilkins, former secretary of Department of Children and Families, said Enterprise Florida is "top-heavy" and doesn't need some of its positions because the Legislature eliminated funding for business incentives. He also recommended that Visit Florida, a tourism marketing company that's now part of the operation, be transferred to another state agency.

Scott, chairman of the Enterprise Florida board, endorsed the changes and said he has no plans to stop focusing on job creation. Scott has spent most of his five years as governor trying to spur the state's economy.

"When I finish the job in two years, eight months, we will absolutely be No. 1 for job creation," Scott said.

The role of Enterprise Florida in helping the state's economy has been a source of friction. Wilkins contended in his presentation that in the past four years, nearly 75 companies made decisions to expand or move to the state in exchange for state support. But some Republicans, including those in the House, have called the incentive payments "corporate welfare" that should not be handed out.

Enterprise Florida officials said they will likely approve a long line of changes in the next few months, although they agreed now to place limits on travel expenses. The Enterprise Florida board also voted Wednesday to approve a $132,500 severance payment to Bill Johnson, the state's commerce secretary and CEO of Enterprise Florida.

Johnson announced his resignation shortly after lawmakers shot down Scott's request. Johnson, who had a base salary of $265,000, was not eligible for any extra compensation if he quit voluntarily according to his contract. But the board agreed to pay him the amount that he would be owed if he was fired.

Scott this week refused to say whether he asked Johnson to quit.

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