Capital column: Business initiatives advance despite tight budget

TALLAHASSEE — Despite a $3 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers spent much of last week putting together proposals to spend state money to attract aerospace companies, boat manufacturers, film makers and biotech researchers to the state.

In separate initiatives that fall under the umbrella of economic development, House and Senate leaders are poised to offer tax incentives, credits and straight up cash to lure companies to a state hoping to wean itself from real estate development and tourism — its twin engines of non-agricultural growth.

Such diversity is needed, backers say, as Florida faces its highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression.

A key Senate Committee last put its stamp on a $50 million installment to attract a Maine-based genetic research company to Collier County. The Jackson Laboratory initiative would use the governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development to assist local officials and private contributors to lure the non-profit research firm to near Ave Maria University.

The state aid, which would ultimately total $130 million, would augment an estimated $130 million in local matching funds as well as more than $100 million in private donations and $300 million from the institute itself.

Beyond that, the Senate passed a three-year, $187 million economic development package that provides tax breaks for hiring unemployed Floridians, provides tax breaks for manufacturers, aircraft builders and pumps $30 million into the state’s threatened space industry.

Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, has been a driving force behind the boat tax credit, saying capping the state taxes would generate more money in the long run by encouraging buyers to consider Florida instead.

And finally, a House panel last week approved a series of tax incentives backers say are necessary to lure lucrative film industry contracts to the state.

If not, the state will find itself on the cutting room floor as other states push ahead with aggressive campaigns to land not only feature films, TV and commercials, but a host of new media from digital games to special effects that can be created anywhere.

We need to do this now,” said House sponsor Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando. “Our neighbors are having to go to other states to find work.”

Toward that end, the panel unanimously approved a measure allowing the state to issue up to $75 million in corporate income and sales tax credits to qualified entertainment enterprises. The credits could be used to offset costs of production and materials.

The bill would distribute available funds among a handful of general areas including commercial and music videos and independent productions. The credits would be transferable.

In a nod to the state’s tough financial picture, the measure converts current cash incentives to transferable tax credits that won’t be redeemable until 2011.

“The new media clusters are beginning to form,” Precourt told the committee. “We need to make a conscience decision to stay in the business or not.”

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