Florida vs. Connecticut - Mixed Bag of Growth and Opportunity

Florida Governor Rick Scott spent much of Monday in Connecticut, urging businesses here to relocate to the Sunshine State. There’s no question that Florida has attracted some Connecticut residents and created jobs in recent years, but recent published reports highlight more of a mixed bag that appearances may suggest at first glance.

Chris McCarty, the director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said in a PolitiFact.com article earlier this year that the state has yet to regain the construction jobs that were lost in the recession. McCarty said these jobs are important to note because they are high-paying. Prior to the recession (2006), there were about 668,700 construction jobs and in November 2016 there were only 461,800.

Scott, elected at the start of this decade, pledged to create 700,000 jobs (on top of what the state would have created anyway) in seven years, according to PolitiFact, has “more work to do before Scott hits the jobs total that he promised,” McCarty noted.

PolitiFact Florida is a partnership of the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, “to help you find the truth in politics.”

Scott’s office announced last month that Florida tied Georgia for the fastest private-sector job growth rate of the 10 largest states in the nation during the past year, when Florida added 233,800 new private-sector jobs, the second-most in the nation.

Scott is a former resident of Stamford.  He has made similar trips to California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland and Minnesota, according to the Miami Herald.  The paper reported that Scott brought chief of staff Jackie Schutz Zeckman to Connecticut, but none of his economic development experts joined him. Scott has previously urged GE and Yale University to relocate to Florida.

The Connecticut foray comes a week after he gained legislative approval of a “growth fund” for infrastructure and job training meant to create new jobs, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The new fund cannot be used for direct payments to businesses, according to published reports, but can be tapped to build roads or other infrastructure and improve job skills to benefit citizens at large, rather than just one company. Local governments and state colleges can apply for money for specific projects from the fund.  It was the result of a compromise with legislative leaders in Florida, who had been critical of what was described as “corporate welfare.”

Job-poaching trips to other states had been routine for Scott, the Sentinel reported, but were cut back last year when lawmakers eliminated funding for direct incentive payments to businesses. Florida legislators have set aside $1.6 billion for business incentives over the past seven years but have become increasingly wary of their effectiveness in light of high-profile projects such as the Orlando biotech firm Sanford Burnham, which is leaving the state after failing to meet its job creation goal, set more than a decade ago. The company had been approved for $350 million in incentives.

A recent United Way report in Florida shows that nearly 70 percent of jobs in the state pay less than $20 an hour, the state’s public radio station, WFSU, recently reported. The most common job in Florida is a retail sales position paying an average of $10 an hour. Next are food preparers and cashiers, according to the report.  An economic analysis compiled for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau by Florida International University Metropolitan Center last fall showed that although many jobs have returned since the Great Recession, the new jobs are paying workers significantly less than the jobs they replaced, and the rebound has been dramatically uneven across the state.

Last month, Scott announced the unemployment rate in Florida stood at 4.5 percent in April, the lowest it had been since September 2017 and just above the national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. Connecticut’s unemployment rate rose from 4.8 to 4.9 percent in April as the state lost 1,500 non-farm jobs, according to the state Department of Labor.  The jobless rate was 0.5 percentage points lower than a one year ago and the state added 5,500 jobs during the previous 12 months, with private sector employment increasing by 9,900 positions during the previous year.

Earlier this month, Scott signed a state worker pay raise into law, marking the first time in over a decade that Florida state employees will receive an across-the-board raise. All employees who earn $40,000 a year or less will get a $1,400 raise, and employees who earn more than $40,000 a year will get a $1,000 raise. Most state law enforcement officers will get a 5 percent raise and most correctional officers will get a $2,500 raise, and judges, elected state attorneys and public defenders will get 10 percent pay hikes, the Tampa Bay Times reported.  In addition, state group health insurance will begin moving toward a four tier system, and most public sector employees will default into a 401-k style retirement program.