Creating jobs has been Gov. Rick Scott’s mantra since taking office in 2011. How the governor goes about that mission — and how much of the state’s economic recovery is attributable to market forces beyond his control — can be questioned.
But even his staunchest critics should acknowledge that Scott’s intense focus on jobs the past three years has been the right focus for Florida.
Which is why he took great satisfaction last week in the release of new jobs numbers and unemployment rates that give plenty of reason for optimism in a state hit particularly hard by the great recession.
Florida added 44,000 jobs last month, more than any other state in the nation. Here in the Tampa Bay area, 7,100 jobs were added last month and nearly 40,000 over the past year, which leads the state.
The unemployment rate in Florida dipped to 6.7 percent in October, the eighth straight month the state has dropped below the national average, which stands at 7.3 percent. The news was even better in the Tampa Bay area, where the rate dipped to 6.4 percent last month.
As the Tribune’s Michael Sasso reports, statistics from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show job growth across a wide spectrum of occupations, with the construction industry showing a comeback from the housing crash six years ago. Closer to home, the Tampa area has benefited from a series of announcements by companies either moving here or expanding, among them Bristol Myers Squibb, the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., USAA and Time Warner. Amazon will add hundreds of jobs when its warehouse operations are up and running in Ruskin.
Scott’s obsession has led him to trim government regulations, push tax-funded economic incentives, travel to far-away lands, and perhaps set a record for most ground-breakings and ribbon-cuttings attended by a sitting governor. He is known to frequently get on the phone to make his own pitch to companies thinking about moving to Florida.
He stands ready to help local economic development efforts.
But sometimes his attention to job creation has blinded him to other concerns. The economic incentives are sometimes misused and poorly tracked. He hasn’t always distinguished between bureaucratic red tape and necessary regulations.
Future Floridians will likely lament the governor’s and Legislature’s decision to jettison the growth management laws that kept new development from generating costly bills for taxpayers.
And the positive economic statistics aren’t all they sometimes appear to be. For instance, economists say one reason the unemployment rate is dropping is because the long-term unemployed have given up looking for work and no longer show up in the statistics.
Still, the governor is fighting the good fight. Nothing helps the economy more than jobs.
Consider 2009 and 2010, and President Barack Obama’s misguided focus on health care reform at a time when millions of jobs were being lost across the country. Had he put a singular focus on jobs, the country’s recovery might not be so anemic four years down the road.
Scott will be faulted in the coming election year for his policies on education, transportation, voting rights and a host of other issues that so far have kept his approval ratings low.
But opponents are going to have a hard time dismissing his decision to focus on jobs.