Lisa McKerracher might set up a spinal-cord lab in Miami, or she might set it up in Massachusetts. Florida will pay her $83,000 to pick the Sunshine State.
“I’m not sure this is where I need to be,” McKerracher said from her temporary office in Dania Beach. “I’m going up to Boston in two weeks to look at space.”
McKerracher’s quandary captures the high and low stakes involved as Florida uses tax dollars to woo companies that may add jobs in the state. In the last two years, Florida’s economic-development agency pledged about $155 million in rewards for companies planning to add jobs in the state either with new locations or expanding their current ones.
BioAxone Biosciences, McKerracher’s fledgling company, hopes to create a new drug for paralysis victims, making it the kind of research firm South Florida pines for as it tries to move its economy away from depending on tourism and real estate. But McKerracher only plans on hiring 12 people tops for a small lab at the University of Miami’s new commercial research building, representing a tiny win for a region that has lost 134,000 jobs in the recession.
South Florida relied on modest deals like McKerracher’s for the nearly $12 million in pledges from Enterprise Florida, with smaller counties receiving larger grants. Of the 20 largest Enterprise grants since 2011, none were in Broward or Miami-Dade. The biggest was April’s $14 million pledge to Embraer Aircraft in Brevard for a new facility designed to add 650 jobs.
The largest payout in South Florida went to Saveology.com, an online discount site slated to get $1.5 million for moving from Fort Lauderdale to a larger headquarters in Margate. The relocation includes plans for 750 new employees, and prevented the company from accepting offers from other suitors, including San Francisco, said Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward’s economic development agency.
The incentive numbers were revealed late last week when an official from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity inadvertently released a confidential database in responding to a public-records request from Integrity Florida, a nonprofit research group in Tallahassee focused on ethics reform. The database showed some pending offers that otherwise would have remained secret. South Florida’s list mostly involved companies already in the area, or moves that had been made public.