When pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb announced in 2013 that they would be locating its capability center in Tampa, company executives weren’t doing so just because they liked the weather in the Sunshine State.
In choosing the area over 50 other locations around the country, Hillsborough County and the state of Florida had to play ball, giving out major tax breaks to incentivize the corporate giant to relocate here. The County guaranteed $2.1 million in tax incentives,and the state added nearly $5 million more in incentives, if the company followed through on its commitments on hiring and salaries.
Now with the Florida House threatening to axe Governor Rick Scott’s plan to provide $250 million in taxpayer funds for a Florida Enterprise Fund in serious jeopardy, Rick Homans with the Tampa Bay Partnership is concerned that the Tampa Bay region won’t have the necessary funds available to pursue similar, high-impact projects like this in the future.
“All of those projects when we were going after them required closing funds, to be part of the deal, and we would never have been able to engage in the negotiation without the closing funds as part of a package,” Homans says. Before coming on to lead the Partnership, Homans was actively involved in recruiting such companies as head of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation.
Homans has penned a letter to Tampa Bay area lawmakers Richard Corcoran and Tom Lee to see about including the fund in the final budget that lawmakers will vote on next week. Corcoran and Lee are the appropriations chairmen in the House and Senate, respectively.
“Failing to fund this important economic development program would deliver a major setback to efforts throughout Tampa Bay to create a more prosperous and economically competitive region,” Homans wrote in the letter.
In recent months, Scott has been extremely successful in recruiting officials all across the state, including Democratic mayors like Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman, to publicly endorse his request for a Florida Enterprise Fund of $250 million — about six times what the Legislature approved this year.
And while the Senate has gone along in supporting him., House Leadership is resisting.
Corcoran has called such funding “corporate welfare,” echoing a line that the Americans for Prosperity-Florida has been parroting for months in opposition.
Humans says that incentives are the coin of the realm in recruiting high powered companies to relocate, and if the state unilaterally disarms, the Tampa Bay area will not be at the table to recruit such companies in the future. “It’s a reality of economic development, and I think that politics is in some cases where ideology and reality come together and you have outcomes that are good for the public, that’s what you hope for,” he says.
But with Corcoran laying down the law the way he sees it on the Florida Enterprise Funds, Homans realizes that it’s an uphill battle. He says he respects Corcoran’s position. To a point, anyway.
“What we’re hoping for is what he and other leaders see is that they balance those strong opinions with the realty that it’s important for us to continue to compete with these projects, and it’s important for all the counties in Tampa Bay and the state of Florida to be at the table.”
According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity portal, Bristol-Meyers Squibb has only been paid $1 million in incentives, with millions more owed to them if they fulfill their obligations.
The Legislative session is scheduled to end a week from this Friday, March 10.