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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 15, 201712:00 PM EST

Wendland urges Senate support for Enterprise Florida


With the Florida House vote to eliminate Enterprise Florida a done deal, Jacksonville’s economic development chief asks for help lobbying the state Senate to do the opposite.

“If any of you know any senators and you have any conversations with them, please convey that it’s serious. We are counting on them to save Enterprise Florida,” said Kirk Wendland, executive director of the city’s Office of Economic Development.

He said site consultants already are shying from the state.

“I can tell you, no question, that just the discussion of Enterprise Florida not being there, and not having a state economic development agency, has absolutely affected the deal flow that we have seen over the past couple of months,” Wendland said.

He said the consultants are saying “we’ll come talk to you“ once state leaders settle the squabble.

Wendland spoke briefly Tuesday afternoon to members of the Urban Land Institute North Florida District Council before a panel discussion about infill development. About 100 members and guests attended the event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.

Enterprise Florida is the state’s public-private agency that negotiates taxpayer incentives for economic-development projects.

House opponents call it corporate welfare and want to divert funding to other state needs.

Wendland said the lack of a state economic-development organization “will have a material impact on us being able to compete for major projects here in Florida, in Jacksonville specifically.”

He told the group of real estate developers, builders, brokers, design professionals and others that since Mayor Lenny Curry took office in July 2015, the city has announced 20 projects that pledge creation of about 5,000 jobs and more than $650 million in private capital investment.

When completed, he said those projects will generate more than $6 million in ad valorem taxes.

Many of Jacksonville’s economic deals that use taxpayer incentives also make use of state programs like road funds, job training and the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program.

“The one thing that’s very consistent and that the mayor has insisted on, frankly since Day One, is that we really look at return on investment for all of our different deals,” Wendland said.

In outlining some of the recent deals, Wendland said he expects will start hiring for fulfillment center jobs in July-August. The two centers under development are expected to need 2,700 full-time employees.

“While some of those Amazon jobs will be high-wage, a lot of those will be on the lower end of the wage scale, but they also will be in that sweet spot of where unemployment is today,” he said.

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