Swoope: Speeding Up Incentives Could Help Land Apple-Like Firm

Posted at 3:34 PM, Oct 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-01 15:34:00-04

Tallahassee, Fl (WTXL) -- Florida may be trying to entice Apple Inc. to build a manufacturing plant in the state.

Or a top economic-development leader could just be using the prospect of landing the multinational electronics and technology company to get state lawmakers to allow more leeway on state incentives packages through a program known as the "Quick Action Closing Fund."

Enterprise Florida President and Chief Executive Officer Gray Swoope told the agency's board members Tuesday that Apple is the kind of manufacturer desired by Florida. However, he said, state laws might hinder such economic-development efforts because of the length of time needed to get approval for incentives as firms try to open facilities quickly.

Under the Quick Action Closing Fund, a joint House and Senate panel known as the Legislative Budget Commission is required to approve incentives packages over a $5 million threshold. The commission meets periodically throughout the year.

"I see this as a competitive disadvantage that we need to figure out," Swoope said. "I'm not saying that we need to do away with Senate approval or House leadership approval, because this is $10 million that we're accountable for. But the approval process needs to be tightened. It needs to be tightened so when a company like Apple says 'Hey,' in September, 'by the end of this year we want product coming out the door .... This is what I need for you to make it happen.' "

A spokesman for Enterprise Florida offered little comment when asked if the state was trying to woo Apple.

"We work confidentially with companies from all target industries, both nationally and internationally, in an effort to create new jobs and retain existing jobs in the state," spokesman Sean Helton said in an email Tuesday. "As such, I can neither confirm nor deny or discuss details of any active projects."

A representative from Apple, which has been increasing its domestic manufacturing footprint after facing criticism regarding the amount of work outsourced to China, was not immediately available for comment.

Swoope pointed to a late 2013 deal quickly completed by Arizona in which about $10 million in state incentives was offered for a factory in Mesa that will employ 700 people making stronger glass for Apple's gadgets.

"I can tell you that we're on the thumbs-up list, we're a state that they would like to do business in," Swoope said of Apple. "But what I can tell you is, looking at the Mesa, Ariz., example, we may not be in a position to react as quickly as they want."

Incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, backed the current legislative review process, but expressed a willingness to consider changes.

"We are not aware of a single case when the state has lost an economic incentive deal as a result of current process," Crisafulli said. "However, the House of Representatives is very open to ideas on making our economic development process better."

According to state laws, the governor may approve projects under $2 million without legislative backing. The chair and vice chairmen of the budget commission are required to provide the governor with some consultation regarding projects between $2 million and $5 million.

Anything higher goes to the joint legislative commission.

The legislative commission has approved two Quick Action Closing Fund packages this year.

In May, it was revealed that Northrop Grumman Corp. is expanding its Space Coast footprint as the recipient of a $20.8 million state incentive package approved by the commission in March for what was dubbed "Project Magellan."

On Sept. 9, the commission approved a $20 proposal by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for a still-undisclosed company involved in a project dubbed "Project Revolution."

Enterprise Florida Vice Chairman Brett Couch said the desire to speed the process is primarily to help keep projects confidential.

"The longer you wait, it's just inevitable that something is going to leak," Couch said.

And leaks, officials contend, could allow a competing state to outbid Florida for a company and its desired jobs.