Florida TaxWatch says economic gardening bears fruit, UCF program could grow 25,000 jobs

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A University of Central Florida economic development program is gaining notoriety. It seeks to produce jobs by growing companies with fewer than 100 employees and revenue between $1 million and $50 million. Florida TaxWatch says it could be the source of an additional 25,000 jobs over 10 years.

Instead of using monetary incentives to lure companies to invest in a community GrowFL assists second-stage companies already rooted in the community to grow.

Second-stage companies are beyond startups but not establish enough to be able to afford additional resources to grow.  GrowFL is founded on the idea of helping to connect those businesses with available resources may be less expensive and more productive than offering tax cuts to attract a company looking to relocate.

Businesses with fewer than 100 employees make up about 8 percent of the companies operating in Florida and a third of the jobs available.

Florida TaxWatch study says more investment in GrowFL could produce an additional 25,000 jobs paying over 10 years. TaxWatch says the jobs would pay around $77,000 per year and generated an additional $16.5 million annually in tax receipts.

 “Florida has successfully invested in promoting the state’s innovation economy by targeting entrepreneurial second stage companies with great growth potential through GrowFL,” said Dominic Calabro, TaxWatch president. “Expanding the GrowFL program is a great way to grow the state economy.”

The Florida Legislature created GrowFL with about $1 million in 2009 as a regional program. It went statewide in a partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation and the National Center for Economic Gardening as a laboratory to foster economic development.

GrowFL activities in 2012 -2013 helped create nearly 3,745 new jobs and added more than $587 million to the economy while producing nearly $20 million in additional state and local tax revenues, according to an annual report.

Since its inception GrowFL participating companies have added more than 13,000 jobs and have contributed $2.3 billion to the Florida economy. GrowFL raised $2.61 million in state, local and private sector funds in 2013.

“GrowFL has been critical to us,” Mike Potts, chief engineer at a Jacksonville software company, told the UCF’s Office of Research & Commercialization. “We don’t get much strategic advice (but) they’re helping pair us with potential clients to expand to Tampa, Miami, and Orlando,” said Potts.

UCF welcomed TaxWatch’s independent verification of the program’s success.

“Since its inception, GrowFL has been singularly committed to providing the strategies, resources and support that second-stage companies require to grow and prosper, “said Tom O’Neal, GrowFL executive director. “Research from organizations such as Florida Tax Watch reinforces what our data has continually shown – GrowFL and economic gardening works.”