TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A committee overseeing the state's business recruitment agency on Thursday supported cuts that will slash 26 positions and shutter several international offices, after lawmakers this year refused to fund one of Gov. Rick Scott's top priorities.
Envisioning a leaner, more efficient public-private agency, the Enterprise Florida Board Executive Committee signed off on a series of recommendations put forward last month as a means to trim expenses by $6 million. The full board will vote on the proposal on Friday.
"We don't have a closing fund, so why would we have people do the job that we don't have money for anymore? It just doesn't make sense," Scott, the board chairman who oversees the committee, said Thursday.
Scott called for a review of the agency after state lawmakers earlier this year rejected his request for $250 million for business incentives.
"All of us would have loved the Legislature to fully fund Enterprise Florida, but they didn't," Scott said.
Enterprise Florida, funded through public and private money, will still receive $23.7 million as part of the $82 billion state budget that goes into effect on Friday.
The full board of directors is expected to approve the cutbacks with little discussion at a Friday meeting in Orlando.
Under the austerity steps, 11 employees will likely lose their jobs and another 15 positions won't be refilled, a savings of about $2.14 million next year.
The cuts do not include the recent departure of president and CEO Bill Johnson, who drew a $132,500 severance check after leaving the post he held for a little more than a year.
At the governor's behest, the changes were recommended by David Wilkins, a former executive with the consulting firm Accenture who also served as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families under Scott.
Wilkins has described Enterprise Florida, with 90 employees and a $9 million annual operating budget, as being "top heavy."
Vice Chairman Alan Becker predicted the proposed cuts will make the organization "leaner and more efficient." Anticipating the cuts, a number of employees helped the agency by announcing that they will resign or retire soon, Becker added.
"We will not suffer in our core functions," Becker said. "There obviously are some things that we do that we will not do … There are some consolidations. There is some more we will ask of people than they've been doing in the past."
The committee also urged the full board to direct staff to close offices in China and South Africa, trim operations in Canada and renegotiate a contract to make its Japan office performance-based.
Becker said if the performance-based deal is fruitful in Japan, Enterprise Florida could consider reopening the China office with a similar agreement or different representation.
"We're not saying that we're not going to do anything ever in China. It's an important country, but, for now, this is our biggest single contract and we get the least return," he said.
Becker said Japanese officials approached him about redoing the deal after they heard Florida was poised to shut down operations in the island nation.
The agency will also have to address South Africa operations as it reviews a $259,500 allocation in the state budget to expand African trade.
Becker said in September the board will discuss ways to educate lawmakers about the agency's activities.
He said a vast majority of deals don't require the closing fund money, but business recruitment efforts could be hamstrung without the staffing resources or institutional knowledge used to finalize deals such as the expansion of Northrop Grumman Corp. on the Space Coast and the relocation of Hertz Corp. from New Jersey to Estero.
"That's where we'll be hurt, with those," Becker said.