By Jeff Harrington, Times Staff Writer In Print: Thursday, July 14, 2011
As Florida’s new secretary of commerce, Gray Swoope knows he has become the focal point for Gov. Rick Scott’s most-watched promise: to create 700,0000 jobs in seven years.
The former Mississippi economic development chief is sure it will happen — and insists it is happening already despite plenty of obstacles.
Yes, he acknowledged, Florida has lagged behind more nimble economic development teams in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Yes, the economic recovery has stalled nationally.
Nevertheless, he said, Florida has managed to add up to 60,000 net jobs so far this year in part from growth in international business and part from reduced red tape.
“We’re beginning to do it. We’re seeing the momentum,” Swoope said Wednesday at a get-acquainted meeting sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership.
About 100 business leaders and politicians came to Valpak’s St. Petersburg complex to hear Swoope’s message. One of his chief themes: teamwork. “You are the foot soldiers here,” he said.
Swoope was initially recruited by Scott to run Enterprise Florida. But come Oct. 1, his responsibilities mushroom as he becomes the first to oversee the new Department of Economic Opportunity, an agency that incorporates the Agency for Workforce Innovation, the governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development and parts of the Department of Community Affairs.
The makeover is intended to expedite approval of corporate incentives, giving authority to Scott to approve incentives under $5 million without legislative approval.