Jobs boss: Cissy Proctor talks Florida’s future

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Cissy Proctor is here to help.

That’s how the recently appointed head of the Department of Economic Opportunity views her job. In the months since she took over the helm, she has traveled the state trying to understand the Florida’s needs, talking to business owners, local business organizations and regional workforce agencies along the way.

“We’re making sure we’re doing economic and community workforce development in a competitive way,” said Proctor. “We want to make sure that if a company is coming into the state and they need the infrastructure to build a building, they need contacts, they need a trained and talented workforce, that we can help bring all of that together.”

In December, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Proctor as the organization’s executive director. Her first day on the job? Three days before the beginning of the 2016 legislative session.

For anyone else, it might have been nerve-wracking. But Proctor had spent three years with the agency, serving most recently as the department’s chief of staff. She knew the ropes, the players and what issues could arise during the legislative session.

“It was hit the ground running,” she said. “The great thing was, I knew what our legislative agenda was going to be. I knew what our potential issues would be. I knew what questions senators and representatives might have of us, because I had heard them before.”

The agency had been scrutinized by lawmakers in the past. Jesse Panuccio, the former head of the DEO, was criticized for how he handled economic incentives and problems with the state’s unemployment benefits. In 2015, the Florida Senate failed to confirm his appointment. He left the agency later that year.

Proctor, however, did not face the same tough confirmation process as her predecessor.

“(State legislators) showed me they have confidence in me and they think that I can, along with a really strong team, run the agency and run it well,” she said. “I think that’s important for the future of the agency and what it looks like.”

That future is growing the economy. Since the 2016 legislative session ended in March, Proctor has visited more than a dozen cities across the state. She’s made multiple visits to Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, and is often on hand when Scott makes the monthly jobs announcements.

“She’s a hard worker and gets along with people,” said Scott. “I need someone who can promote the state, that can help explain how we’re doing. She’s a good partner.”

As Proctor looks toward the future of the agency, she said partnership will be key. Like Scott, she wants to make sure Floridians can get good jobs. And that, she said, can be achieved by working together with businesses, workforce development agencies, and educational institutions.

“We have to make sure we have a talented workforce to fill the needs that the companies that sit around the table have,” she said. “To do that, you want to make sure you’re making the connection between education and a job. We want to make sure there’s that connection. Nobody wants our grads to go to Atlanta or Charlotte or Austin to find a job.”

That’s a message she’s hoping to spread in the coming weeks, as both Scott and the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation host summits focused on education and the transition to the workforce. Proctor is scheduled to speak at both events, and is hopeful they will highlight what the state is doing to attract jobs to Florida.

“It takes all of us,” she said. “It takes the state.”