A candidate in a sour economy, who is now governor in a still-recovering Florida, Rick Scott has made job creation his signature political theme.
But lately, Scott has added a new tactic in his drive to add jobs:
Florida’s Republican chief executive has sent letters to hundreds of business leaders in five states with Democratic governors, urging them to flee what he condemns as higher taxes and costlier regulatory environments and bring their companies to the Sunshine State.
Looking to make good on his 2010 campaign promise of creating 700,000 jobs in Florida over seven years, Scott’s “one-way ticket” campaign is targeting companies in California, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota for relocation pitches.
“They constantly seem like they want to raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes,” Scott said. “That’s great for us. They’re making it more difficult for their companies to compete. We want them all to come to Florida.”
Companies in California, led by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, are among the most diverse and potentially lucrative in Scott’s sights.
But a spokesman for Brown’s Office of Business and Economic Development shrugged off the impact of the governor’s appeal.
Besides, Brook Taylor said Scott’s pitch was nothing new. Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry attempted a similar come-on earlier this year with radio ads blasted around the state.
“Gov. Scott is not the first Rick to roll into town,” Taylor said. “But when you’re the largest job-creating state in the nation, it’s no surprise people take notice. Still, no governor has poached his way to success when it comes to jobs.”
Connecticut’s Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, Catherine Smith, said Friday that she was forwarded Scott’s letter from a CEO in her state who attached a comment in his email.
“He said, ‘pretty blatant,’” Smith recalled. “But I can’t tell how much this is about getting companies to move to Florida or the governor just getting attention in the media.”
Scott’s attempts to lure out-of-state businesses come as many of his policies are seen through the prism of his burgeoning re-election campaign.
In signing the state’s $74.1 billion budget last month, Scott’s letter accompanying the act boasted that he is close to the halfway mark on the 700,000 jobs. That’s well ahead of his seven-year schedule.
The state has added 285,100 jobs since he took office in January 2011, according to the state’s Department of Employment Opportunity.
Unemployment in April fell to 7.2 percent, Florida’s lowest rate in five years and down from 10.9 percent when Scott was sworn-in.
By contrast, California’s jobless rate was 9 percent in April; Connecticut’s, 8 percent. Unemployment nationwide ticked slightly upward in May to 7.6 percent, the federal Labor Department announced Friday.
Scott, though, isn’t aiming at states only with workforce statistics more troubling than Florida’s.
Only 5.3 percent of Minnesotans were without a job in April. But Scott seized on last month’s decision by state lawmakers there to increase income taxes for the state’s top 2 percent of earners.
Madeline Koch, with Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, said Scott’s letters haven’t caused a stir.
Koch said she thought most Minnesota companies were content to stay in a state known for a strong workforce and good education system, qualities Scott challenged in his letter to company executives.
“Nobody has made a big stink about wanting to move. We think we have a really good story to tell,” Koch added.
But Scott, a multimillionaire former health care executive, said his sales pitch is simple – and direct.
““I’m saying (to companies), ‘Why should you do business in Florida? Why should you move your corporate office here? Why should you move your plant here? Why should you move your regional office here?” Scott said.
“I’m doing that in a variety of states where I think there are bigger opportunities,” Scott said.
Florida’s governor also insisted he wasn’t merely focused on jobs in states governed -by Democrats.
“I tell people all across the country, my goal is to make this the number one place where you can do business, where you can get a job, where your children can get a great education, and you can afford to live,” Scott said.
Florida’s lack of a state income tax, its improving education system, rise in housing starts and strong credit rating helped by reduced debt under Scott are all highlighted in the governor’s letters to out-of-state CEOs.
But job creation is a relentless task for Scott, who has pinned his political career to it.
The nation’s unemployment rise in May was largely credited to more people joining the labor force. And economists forecast Florida also is seeing the reentry of thousands of workers who formerly had given up and disappeared from the unemployment roll.
“People are looking again and they will start showing up as unemployed,” said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist. “That makes the unemployment rate go up, which would not be something Gov. Scott wants to see.”
Although he hasn’t landed companies yet from the recent feelers, Scott has had some big-ticket successes in getting companies to move to Florida or expand here.
Last month, he announced Hertz Corp., was moving its worldwide headquarters from New Jersey to Estero in Southwest Florida, bringing with it 700 jobs.
Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Corp., announced it was opening two new aircraft design and research centers in Florida, bringing 1,000 jobs to the St. Augustine and Melbourne area.
A couple dozen more firms have announced expansion of relocation plans on a smaller scale, like the national law firm, Kaye Scholer, which plans to bring 100 accounting, marketing and other back-office jobs to Tallahassee from New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
Scott is expected today to join officials from Canadian-based, Garda World Security Corp., to announce it has created 500 jobs in Florida, up from the 100 positions promised when it moved its U.S. headquarters to Boca Raton from California in 2011.
But Scott’s goal as a job creator has been nuanced since 2010.
He initially vowed to create 700,000 jobs over seven years — on top of an estimated 1 million jobs state economists said would naturally develop in Florida by 2017 as the economy grew to meet a rising population.
Scott has since walked back that claim, insisting that the straightforward 700,000 jobs is his bull’s-eye.
Florida Democrats haven’t yet challenged Scott’s performance as a job-maker. In an improving economy, it may be a risky political strategy for Democrats to diminish Scott’s work and say their eventual candidate for governor can do better.
Indeed, whenever Scott touts Florida’s recent jobs numbers, he is quick to compare them to the four years that preceded his election.
Without mentioning former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s name, Scott looks to remind voters that under Crist, now a Democrat expected to challenge him next year, the state and nation’s economy collapsed with the recession.
Democratic strategists are unfazed.
Scott’s low approval ratings in polls show that – while the governor promotes the theme, “It’s Working” – something clearly isn’t, they said.
“We don’t really have to challenge Gov. Scott’s claims,” said Joshua Karp, a Florida Democratic Party spokesman. “The voters have already looked and said it’s clearly not enough for them to like him.”