Business

Enterprise Florida CEO resigns after one year on the job

March 29, 2016

By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Gov. Rick Scott’s top business recruiter for the past year is leaving the job.

An announcement Monday about Enterprise Florida President and CEO Bill Johnson’s pending departure came a little more than two weeks after state lawmakers declined to go along with Scott’s request to provide the public-private agency with $250 million for corporate recruitment.

The governor’s office announced that Johnson will be “transitioning out” of the Enterprise Florida top job, which he started in March 2015 at an annual salary of $265,000.

No reason for Johnson’s departure was provided.

An Enterprise Florida spokesman deferred to the announcement from Scott’s office when asked for comment.

On Monday, Scott also sent a letter to the Enterprise Florida board calling for $6 million in cuts to office space and staff — the agency has a $9 million payroll for about 90 employees — because of the decision by the Legislature to not go along with the funding request.

“Clearly, we have no choice but to refocus the efforts and mission of Enterprise Florida,” Scott wrote.

Scott also asked the board in the letter to consider services that could be run entirely by the private sector. Scott expects both proposals to be discussed at the board’s May 11 meeting.

The announcement from the governor’s office about Johnson’s departure said details were still being finalized “to allow Mr. Johnson to fulfill existing EFI commitments.”

Johnson thanked the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, staff and Scott.

“Our economy is growing with more and more businesses selecting Florida over our competitors,” Johnson said in the release.

Scott, meanwhile, credited Johnson for efforts to attract businesses to Florida.

“Bill has been laser-focused on helping us beat Texas to become the number one state for job creation in the nation and we are deeply grateful for his service to our state,” Scott said.

During this year’s session, Johnson pursued legislative approval of Scott’s proposed $250 million for business-recruitment efforts.

But in the end, Scott and Johnson failed to sway lawmakers that Enterprise Florida was running short of the cash needed to close corporate-relocation deals.

Throughout the end of 2015 and into 2016, Scott and Johnson often repeated that the agency was down to just $9 million from the $43 million that lawmakers had set aside in 2015 for business recruitment efforts.

The claim drew skepticism from lawmakers, and critics called the funding proposal corporate welfare.

In August, Johnson, a former PortMiami leader, received a $50,000 bonus from the Enterprise Florida board as the agency exceeded all 52 benchmarks and 18 contractual goals set that year. The bonus was prorated due to Johnson’s time with the agency.

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