OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Behind a chain-link fence just off the Florida Turnpike, a former Osceola County-owned building still sits as empty as a western ghost town. It's not what was promised by gun maker Colt and Gov. Rick Scott at a "high noon" press conference back in 2011.
"I called the company to make sure they were coming," said
Scott at the time.
For $250,000 in state incentives, Colt promised 63 new jobs in the building. So far, they have not come.
"I haven't seen any activity there," said Michelle Torres, an Osceola County resident who lives in an apartment complex just across the street.
In Orlando, a company called Xymogen was promised $174,000 taxpayer dollars in 2010 to create 58 new jobs. But as of this spring, not one had been confirmed by state officials
And 9 Investigates has uncovered scores of other examples. As Florida suffered one of the country's highest unemployment rates, the governor promised to create 700,000 new jobs and pledged incentives to companies that would bring work here. But in case after case, the jobs still have not come.
"The promises haven't been kept by this incentive program," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that has been critical of the program.
In the state's largest jobs incentive program -- known formally as the "Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund" -- 9 Investigates found: Since 2010, there have been nearly 20,000 jobs promised by companies set to receive $93 million in taxpayer incentive dollars.
But only about 1,600 of those jobs have actually arrived with payouts of just $262,000. It's fewer than one in 10 of the jobs promised over that period.
"We see ribbon cuttings and announcements -- and now, it turns out, when you look at the data, the jobs just haven't come," said Krassner.
The state did not dispute 9 Investigates numbers. But officials said a longer-term view of "completed" incentive agreements shows that the program often eventually creates even more jobs than promised. By assessing only "completed" agreements over a longer period of time, the state says 29,694 jobs were actually created -- 10,000 more than the companies originally promised.
Fortunately for taxpayers, the state doesn't actually hand over incentive cash until it confirms the new jobs have, in fact, been created. But in the meantime, critics say, funds that could be used for schools, roads or public safety are instead locked in a holding pattern.
In this year's budget, both the Senate and House of Representatives tried to slash funding that the Enterprise Florida partnership and the Department of Economic Opportunity use for the program. Those cuts range from at least $30 to $80 million. As the budget process moves toward conclusion in Tallahassee, funding cuts in some form seem almost inevitable.
For job seekers like Mary Delamar-Suggs, the new jobs are simply taking too long.
"For me, I haven't seen it," she said.
FULL STATEMENT FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY:
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Economic Development Incentives can be used for job creation, capital investment, infrastructure development, equipment purchases or location of the business in underserved areas. Florida is competing not only with every other state for economic development, but also other countries as well, and the use of incentives is one of Florida’s most powerful tools, but not the only tool, in stimulating and diversifying the economy, creating jobs and expanding businesses. These incentives, as well as sound policies, sensible legislation, business-minded tax regulations, and other factors, have contributed to a steady decline in the unemployment rate and the creation of nearly 300,000 new private sector jobs.
Florida has a first-of-its-kind “Incentives Portal” where anyone can view every non-confidential incentive project with an executed contract since 1996 that received or is on schedule to receive payments from the state of Florida. Businesses with completed QTI contracts over the last three years created 11,041 jobs, 58% more than the 6,987 they were required to create.
Currently there are 335 active QTI agreements. The State has confirmed these companies have already created 18,496 jobs, which is 16 percent more than their contractual obligations. For complete QTI contracts, the State confirmed the 97 businesses with complete QTI agreements created 29,694 new jobs—56 percent more than required.
Requested funding allocations for the QTI program are based on the contractual obligations for the coming year and DEO must be prepared to meet those obligations after it is proved that the business met their job creation goals. – DEO Press Secretary Jessica Sims