ORLANDO, Fla. - High in the Andes Mountain range, Colombia is a country that Gov. Rick Scott believes holds a key for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic growth and thousands of new jobs back here in Florida.
The nation is already Florida’s second-largest trade partner.
“Florida has a unique opportunity to become a major hub for international trade for South and Central America,” Scott said last year.
On Sunday, Scott and 190 business leaders traveled to Colombia for meet and greets and state promotion.
But despite potential payoffs, the $197,650 trip did not sit well with critics.
“It's rather a distraction to, you know, shine the light on something other than his failed jobs record,” said Amy Ritter of Florida Watch Action, a group that has been critical of Scott.
Critics also worry about special access the entourage had to the governor with one-on-one time during travel. The president of Florida Power and Light, several high powered attorneys and the CEOs of other major statewide firms, were among the group.
And then there’s the issue of cost: Participation fees paid by business owners and corporate donations offset a little more than half the cost of this trip, but the governor’s security expenses are borne entirely by taxpayers.
9 Investigates found the governor’s security alone on his six previous international trips costs Florida citizens more than a quarter of a million dollars. That includes almost $77,000 in security for his trip to Brazil, almost $72,000 for the United Kingdom and tens of thousands more for Panama, Canada, Israel and Spain.
“Let's be clear: These trips overseas are very well-funded by the taxpayer,” said Ritter.
But state business leaders insist these “matchmaking” investment trips have higher participation and better results when the governor himself joins in.
According to early state estimates, businesses involved in the Colombia trip are reporting $38 million in new sales resulting from their foreign networking.