Week of October 2, 2000
  Special Report

Former Governor: Economic Development Isn't What It Used to Be

By RON STARNER • Editor of Site Selection Magazine

Former Fla. Gov. Bob MartinezTAMPA -- Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez has practiced economic development from both sides of the fence. As the chief executive officer of the Sunshine State from 1987 to 1991, he played the role of top recruiter for the public sector. Now, as a consultant for the Tampa-based law firm of Carlton Fields and a leader in the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Martinez plies his trade every day as a private-sector professional seeking to attract high-wage jobs to Florida's Gulf Coast.

Throughout his career, which included a stint as the mayor of Tampa before becoming governor of America's fourth largest state, Martinez has seen the evolution of economic development.

"There is quite a difference today," he says. "Back in 1979, Florida and the other Southern states were prepared to work with Northern companies looking to relocate, and the states in the Northeast and Midwest were not doing a whole lot to try to retain the companies they had. That has since changed dramatically."

Today, Martinez says, all 50 states have aggressive economic development programs to recruit and retain industry. As a result, "you have to be more aggressive and tell a better story if you are going to be competitive," the governor says. "There are many changes because of technology. Today, you can find high-tech infrastructure almost any place. Before, we could get away with selling sun and sand. You can't do that anymore."

The tiebreaker for many deals, Martinez says, is the quality of the available work force. "Today, the first questions businesses ask are: Where is the work ethic? Where is the available labor? Where are the least work rules? And what about the cost of housing? All of these things play a major role."

Additionally, education has moved to the forefront as an issue in the industry recruiting wars. "Clearly, we want a better school system here in Florida, but I'm not sure that it is as bad as a lot of people say it is," Martinez says. "Most states don't score their schools, but we do. We are actually grading our schools. We also have an excellent Florida State University System, our community college system and the vocational-technical training programs with the high schools."

Martinez notes that the role of financial incentives in industry recruiting has also changed substantially. "Incentives no longer come at the beginning of the negotiating process for the deal. Issues such as labor force and continuing education are far more important today. Companies want to know: What does the community offer our families? What is the transportation system like? But incentives still play a role, and we must continue to lobby the state to keep what incentives we have."

On the political front, the one-time Democrat turned Republican has also seen a shift in thinking among the makers of public policy. "Public officials in our state have taken a more pro-business stance," he says, citing Gov. Jeb Bush's efforts to repeal the state's intangibles tax and to launch Mobility 2000, a major transportation initiative.

Investing in the public infrastructure needed to sustain economic viability and competitiveness is the new mantra for Florida, as it is for most states. No longer is it enough to wave financial incentives like carrots in front of industry. Now, Martinez says, states must be aggressive in providing the roads, schools and water resources they need to compete globally for the best-paying jobs.

"The environmental policy of sustainability has been a driving force in this state," he says. "That's why we are Florida. We are seeing more and more of that. Projects near land preserves have great value. As we learn to do a better job of siting projects, that will be an attractive thing for Florida."

Editor's Note: For a complete report on economic development initiatives under way in Florida,
see the January issue of
Site Selection magazine.



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