By: Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute and government watchdog.
Each year, lawmakers debate the merits of spending part of your hard-earned paycheck to pay companies to open or grow a business in the Sunshine State. While tax incentives are an important part of a sustainable, long-term economic development and job creation strategy, they are one tool in a toolbox filled with options. It is not easy to design programs that help attract and retain Florida job creators without the help of taxpayer funds. But Florida has a little-known secret weapon.
A unique program exists in Florida to attract high-wage, quickly growing companies without the use of tax incentives. GrowFL is a state-sponsored program based out of the University of Central Florida that supports for-profit companies with the highest growth potential. However, GrowFL provides no cash incentives and no tax breaks to participating companies, but they do facilitate the creation of new Florida jobs.
GrowFL had more than 650 Florida companies participate in its program over a two year period, and it clearly it works. Those companies created 1,867 new jobs between July 2011 and June 2013. The highly desirable, entrepreneurial job creating companies that participate in GrowFL are called second-stage companies, and are responsible for more than 30 percent of all Florida jobs, according to research from the nonpartisan Florida TaxWatch. The best news? The companies’ average salaries top $77,000.
Last year, policymakers kept busy in discussions about how to attract and expand Florida businesses and whether to use taxpayer money to create jobs, but they should have focused more time and attention on the benefits of GrowFL.
In a recent independent study from Florida TaxWatch, the watchdog group found that expanding the GrowFL program would generate $16.54 million per year over 10 years, and would produce more than 25,000 new jobs. This kind of high-wage job growth, accomplished without the help of tax incentives, will diversify the Florida economy and provide a positive return on investment for taxpayers.
If GrowFL doesn’t use tax incentives to grow jobs, how do they do it? What’s unique about GrowFL is that companies compete to be accepted into a specialized training and support group where they benefit from a process called economic gardening. GrowFL works to obtain the highest-quality market research available that they share with each of the participating companies to help them make strategic growth decisions. Without the help of GrowFL, these companies wouldn’t be able to get this vital information. In addition to research, the companies benefit from peer-to-peer feedback and have the opportunity to be recognized statewide through the program.
GrowFL provides the strategies, resources and support for second-stage companies to grow and prosper, resulting in thousands of new Florida jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth for the state. If the Legislature wants to keep Florida on a streak of job creation and economic growth, they should invest in GrowFL so the program can engage more Florida companies with the potential to boom. By expanding GrowFL’s reach, Florida could add more than $165.4 million to the economy within the next 10 years.