The campaign slogan has become a mantra: 700,000 jobs in seven years.
Calling from Brazil, where he was leading a trade mission to one of Florida’s largest trading partners, Gov. Rick Scott last week touted the steady, if not slow, pace of recovery as the state added jobs in September, bringing to 110,300, the number of private sector jobs created since the first of the year.
Though too many workers remain unemployed, Scott assured that Florida is slowly getting back on its feet following the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Florida’s jobless rate in September was 10.6 percent, 1.1 percent lower than the 11.7 percent figure posted a year ago and even further below a 12 percent rate posted in December.
Scott said the best news of the day was the fact that private sector employment grew by 23,300 jobs in September, bringing to 110,300 the number of private sector jobs created since January. Cuts in government employment bring the net gain for the year to 92,400.
“We’re bucking the national trend,” Scott said. “We’re creating jobs and our unemployment rate is coming down.”
Job growth over the year has been fueled by increases in tourism and health-related services. A year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill shut down the Panhandle summer tourist season and hurt destinations across the state, the sector gained 58,500 jobs, a 6.4 percent increase.
Health care and private education sectors also showed strong year-to-year gains, rising 3.1 percent in September, an increase of 33,100 jobs.
During his conference call, Scott said the credit for the uptick in jobs has to be shared by state lawmakers, local governments and private interests. The result is a 1.4 percentage point drop in the state jobless rates since December.
“No one can take full credit for this, but Florida is on the right track,” Scott said.
During his campaign and shortly after taking office Scott told reporters his economic recovery plan would increase the ranks of employed Floridians by 700,000 over and above the 1 million or so economists had already projected would be the result of natural population growth over that period.
The governor has since backed off that initial claim, saying instead that the best way, maybe the only way, to effectively track job growth is by using official data compiled by the state. Those numbers speak for themselves, Scott said recently. The state is on its way to reaching his 700,000 job goal.
Looking ahead, Scott is asking lawmakers for more flexibility and funding to help market the state. His newly formed Department of Economic Opportunity, an effort to consolidate economic development, job training and unemployment services under one roof, officially began its efforts Oct. 1.
The new agency will have its work cut out for it. A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel reported DEO’s predecessors have paid millions in taxpayer dollars to companies that have failed to generate the jobs they promised. Among the hundreds of millions in incentives paid to companies that have created jobs, some have not provided the number of new positions promised.
Further, the Sentinel reported that the state paid nearly $38 million to six companies for thousands of jobs that were never created. Given an expected $2 billion shortfall, Scott’s office will likely be pressed to provide more transparency in how it spends economic development dollars on the road to 700,000 jobs.
Michael Peltier is the Daily News Tallahassee correspondent. Email him at email@example.com.