TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Business leaders Thursday were quick to applaud Gov. Rick Scott's proposal for reviving Florida's Commerce Department to streamline economic development efforts.
The new Republican governor announced his proposal at a board meeting of Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership that assumed the department's economic development role when it was dissolved in 1996.
Associated Industries of Florida president and CEO Barney Bishop said attracting new businesses and jobs requires a different approach than what Florida is doing now.
“By establishing a new Department of Commerce to orchestrate all of Florida's business development activities, we can better coordinate efforts and harness collective strengths of each entity responsible for facilitating employment opportunities,'' Bishop said in a statement.
Scott was short on details but said he wants the agency's head to have an office near his own in the Capitol rather than in a separate building.
The governor later issued a statement saying the new department would consolidate economic, workforce and community development functions “under one roof and make our efforts more efficient.'' He plans, though, to maintain Enterprise Florida as a separate entity.
Scott said it would be a step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years. Those would be in addition to about a million new jobs expected to result from economic recovery over that span even if the state does nothing.
“Of particular interest is the governor's recognition that speed in review and decision-making represents an opportunity for improving Florida's competitive position against other states,'' said Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mark Wilson.
Doing away with the department was a pet project of then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. The agency's tourism promotion functions were turned over to Visit Florida, another public-private partnership.
Those changes required legislative approval and so will Scott's proposal.
It took Chiles two years and the inclusion of some business tax breaks to persuade a skeptical Legislature to approve his plan.
Chiles argued that privatizing the agency would give business more say in economic development and require the private sector to help pay for those efforts. He said that would “maximize our economic development efforts with minimal public dollars.''
Chiles' allies included Associated Industries. Its lobbyist at the time, Jon Shebel, urged lawmakers to let business assist “in maintaining and creating a proper business climate.''
The Chamber of Commerce developed the concept for Enterprise Florida, which was launched three years before the Commerce Department's demise.