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Governor Lands a Big One

October 10, 2003

Gov. Jeb Bush has been out fishing for high-paying jobs for Floridians, and it looks like he’s hooked a prize-winner. Could it be another Walt Disney moment for Florida?

The governor’s announcement that The Scripps Research Institute — renowned for advances in treatment of leukemia, ovarian cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS — had decided to open its second facility in Palm Beach County was a major political coup for the Republican party and economic bonanza for the state. One of the nation’s leading biotech firms, Scripps has the potential to add 545 jobs to Florida’s economy within seven years, with a total of 2,800 jobs by its 15th year of operation, with total annual salaries averaging $106 million over that same period of time.

The governor has called the Legislature back into special session from October 20 to 24, which coincides with previously scheduled committee meetings. He will ask lawmakers to allocate $310 million of Florida’s almost $1 billion share of federal economic stimulus funding to help him close the Scripps deal. The governor will also lawmakers to set aside another $190 million in federal funding that can be used to swing the pendulum in Florida’s favor in other pending relocation projects.

The benefits of this deal are so obvious that the governor’s request for money is expected to draw token opposition. Models drawn by state economists predict that the new research facility could bring benefits that would result in a 45 percent return on the state’s investment of $310 million. It also has to potential to create the kind of synergy that could create Florida’s version of Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Beginning more than 50 years ago with Fuller Warren, the role of Florida’s governors has evolved into lead state cheerleader, luring tourists and businesses to the Sunshine State. In the last two or three decades, the governor’s stage has expanded into the international arena, with recent chief executives making trips to such faraway places as China and Japan. While it may be easy to dismiss these travels as mere junkets, they are in fact crucial to the state’s economy, and the ability of a governor to work comfortably with CEOs of every nationality has become a leading job requirement for office seekers. This current governor has proven himself one of the best and deserves credit and thanks for his tireless — and successful — efforts.

As Walt Disney transformed a backward state into an international travel destination, so too does Scripps hold the potential to help Florida embark on an economic makeover, from low-wage state to high-tech Mecca.