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Mark Wilson calls House push to eliminate Enterprise Florida ‘a political conversation about ideology’

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Addressing what he called the “obvious elephant in the room,” Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson criticized Florida House members who backed an effort to end economic incentive programs, calling the move political.

“I want to be blunt for a few minutes,” said Wilson. “This is not a Legislature trying to seek how to diversify the economy and how to grow trade. This is a political conversation about an ideology that frankly is silly.”

Wilson made his comments during the 2017 International Days hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The annual event brings together policy experts and business leaders to talk about economic diversification and foreign investment, and comes as the Florida House is in the midst of discussions about whether to eliminate a slew of other economic incentive programs.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week voted 10-5 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and a slew of economic incentive programs.

The proposal was backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has been a vocal opponent of incentives, equating them to corporate welfare and vowing they would not be in the House budget.

The Florida Chamber opposed the plan, and Wilson used introductory remarks to criticize members, many of whom the Chamber endorsed during the 2016 election cycle, for their decision. Wilson noted some of the members who said they “thought targeted incentives were important” during endorsements discussions, are now writing op-eds calling them immoral.

“The Florida Chamber scores votes by legislators,” he said. “We are scoring every one of the votes in the Legislature and it will be factored into endorsements. That doesn’t make a lot of friends, but (we’re) fighting for free enterprise.”

The Chamber endorsed Reps. Halsey Beshears, Randy Fine, Julio Gonzalez, Mike La Rosa, Alex Miller, Paul Renner, and Jay Trumbull in 2016. All seven voted in favor of the House bill. They were joined by Reps. Dane Eagle, Roy Hardemon, and Shawn Harrison.

Wilson encouraged members to be in “constant contact” with their legislators back home, saying that’s where the calls and emails might make more of an impact.

“You have to share what you learn today to all the elected representatives you know. They need to hear from you,” he said. “Enterprise Florida deserves all the resources to survive.”

Wilson wasn’t the only one making a pitch for Enterprise Florida and incentives during 2017 International Days. The morning session also featured a discussion with Chris Hart IV, the president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, both of whom encouraged the business community to speak out in support of incentive programs.

“We can’t personalize it the way you can when you tell stories,” said Hart, before launching into his own story about starting and growing a company.

Hart said he and his partners were looking to expand elsewhere in North America, and were approached with the opportunity to expand into Canada. Hart said he didn’t know much about the process, but reached out to Manny Mencia, the current senior vice president for international trade & business development at Enterprise Florida, who walked them through it.

“I can’t tell that story in the Legislature with the same effect,” said Hart, citing his ties to the agency.

Proctor, who has spent much of the week touring the state with Gov. Rick Scott talking about economic development, said Enterprise Florida helps connect Florida businesses to international partners.

“The assistance Enterprise Florida provides is extremely important to their business, (because of) the ability to work with their businesses to find new markets and what services to provide,” she said. “They understand how to make connections.”

The Florida Chamber’s 2017 International Days continues through today.

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