If you drive into any one of our contiguous sister states, you’re treated to a sign cheerily announcing “Welcome to Florida!” and bearing reminders of two exotic imports that have decreasing relevance to our state’s economy — an image of an orange and Gov. Rick Scott’s name.
Beneath these large signs are smaller signs that appear to be tacked on as an afterthought. Placed there, no doubt at Scott’s direction, are markers that hold forth this promise: “Open for Business.”
Is the Sunshine State really the business-friendly nirvana promoted by our follically challenged governor? If my friend’s recent experience in simply forming a corporation is any indication, Florida ranks somewhere between Nigeria and North Korea as a government least equipped to foster business growth.
The fundamental first step to building a business is filing the paperwork that creates a corporation. Typically, this is and should be a perfunctory matter that is easily and quickly accomplished.
Without the proper corporate papers, you can’t easily open a checking account. And without a checking account, you can’t operate, and so on.
With entrepreneurial fervor, a friend of mine recently formed a simple corporation and unwittingly began a Kafkaesque odyssey through Florida’s bureaucratic briar patch.
First, he found that you can’t form a corporation by transmitting digital information online. Never mind that you can now use your phone to deposit money into your bank account, pay bills, buy stock, find a mate, and magically summon a car to pick you up at any time of the day or night.
Somehow Florida’s Division of Corporations remains stuck in a last-century pre-Internet time warp that requires that you use snail mail to deliver the most basic information. So, he was almost nostalgic as he visited the post office for the first time in years to mail an envelope to Tallahassee.
He dutifully mailed in his corporate papers with his check and waited for the acknowledgement of his efforts to appear in the online database of corporate filings maintained by the Division of Corporations.
And he waited.
And he waited.
After two weeks he noticed that his check had been cashed but nothing appeared on the state’s corporations website, Sunbiz. So, he began calling the (non toll-free) number provided — eventually for a total of at least 30 times over the course of a week — to check on the status of his new corporation.
Every time he called, the line was busy.
After failing to get through to a live operator, he emailed Sunbiz four times over the course of a week in an attempt to learn the status of the corporation. Never did he receive a reply.
Then, in desperation, he turned to Google to find an alternative phone number, and he somehow located a phone number to the receptionist at the Division of Corporations. After dialing that number and getting a live human on the line, the receptionist refused to help and directed him back to the perpetually busy phone number listed on the Division’s website.
So, a month later, my friend remains in bureaucratic limbo thanks to the ineptitude of the Scott administration. No equipment has been purchased, no employees hired, and no progress made all because of an indifferent bureaucracy in Tallahassee.
If Scott is going to talk the talk, his agencies better walk the walk.
What should be a seamless, transparent experience for forming new businesses is a giant sucking black hole.
Perhaps we need to unbolt those “Open for Business” placards and switch them to the Georgia side of the sign?