The state’s business-recruitment agency may cut 27 jobs and $6 million in annual expenses, while its outgoing leader will get a $132,500 severance check when he exits next month after just over a year in the position.
The proposed changes at Enterprise Florida will continue to be reviewed in June. But with little comment, the agency’s board Wednesday approved a separation agreement with President and CEO Bill Johnson that calls for him to remain with the agency until June 24, when he will receive the severance payment and compensation for unused vacation time.
“It’s strictly in accord with his contract,” board Vice Chairman Alan Becker said.
The agreement also prohibits Johnson and the agency from disparaging one another.
Johnson, addressing the board during a meeting at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, promoted the work of the agency but offered few details about why he is stepping down.
“I believe we have made progress over the last year, although quite candidly, not as much as I would have liked,” Johnson said.
Gov. Rick Scott sidestepped comment when asked Tuesday after a state Cabinet meeting if he told Johnson to resign.
Johnson’s exit was announced in late March, a little more than two weeks after state lawmakers rejected Scott’s request to provide the public-private agency with $250 million for corporate recruitment. At the time of the announcement, Scott also sought a restructuring of the agency.
Board members Wednesday offered measured support for a series of proposed internal changes and downsizing that would slash about 30 percent of the agency’s jobs and costs.
The changes, recommended by David Wilkins at Scott’s behest, would also put added emphasis on attracting international business while shifting the state’s Small Business Credit Initiative, along with Visit Florida, the Florida Sports Foundation and Minority Business Support, under the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
Wilkins, a former executive with the consulting firm Accenture who also served as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, described Enterprise Florida with 90 employees and a $9 million annual operating budget as being “top heavy.”
Wilkins said he didn’t find “runaway spending” at the agency. But he said the agency has grown in 20 years beyond its initial function. “Each individually are magnificent organizations,” he said. “They’re all well run. They all deliver significant value. But they’re a little bit off from the core mission about what we were set up to do.”
Wilkins also called for revisions to travel policies, downsizing office space in Orlando, Miami and Tallahassee, and bringing in an independent accounting firm annually to inspect the agency.
Board member Stan Connally, president of Pensacola-based Gulf Power Co., said there was general support from people focused on businesses development to back Wilkins’ proposal. But Connally, who asked if some of the money being saved could be moved into business incentive programs, also cautioned the board to maintain a focus on small-business development.
“There’s got to remain a culture where we prop up, support, enhance, grow our small-business network across the state,” Connally said.
Eric Silagy, president of Florida Power & Light, said there is always room to make improvements, but he was more direct in cautioning the board about altering the entire course of the agency simply to make changes.
“In many respects, arguably the (marketing) benchmarking is set and in most respects it’s working,” Silagy said. “We’re creating a lot of jobs. And this organization is really the tip of the spear, and we need to be careful not to end up breaking the end of that spear off.”
Scott, who sought to have the board at least accept the travel expense changes on Wednesday, acknowledged that more time is needed to review the proposal before the issues are discussed at meetings in June and September.
“There’s a lot of these decisions you can’t make today,” Scott said. “It’s going take more time and more conversation to make those decisions.”
Jim Turner / The News Service of Florida
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