Here’s a question most all home-state business services professionals eager to get a public contract have ponder: Why is it that a public official tends to think an “expert” is anyone who lives at least one state away?
Which brings us to the latest episode of things that Gray Swoope, former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, is doing to bring him less than-favorable acclaim in his new job as head of Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency based in Orlando.
Last month, Swoope got media attention by calling out Charlie Crist, a former Flordia governor who is reported to want his old job back. Considering the unpopularity of current Gov. Rick Scott, Crist stands a good chance of returning to power – and becoming Swoope’s new boss.
This week the spotlight returned to Swoope after news surfaced that he had repeated a practice he brought with him from Mississippi. Specifically, that practice would be going out of state to secure professional services for his agencies. Mississippians might recall Swoope recruited the Nashville, Tenn., firm of North Star Destination Strategies to come up with a destination marketing campaign for Mississippi – even though Mississippi’s Yellow Pages are chock full of destination marketing firms.
In the end, North Star gave Mississippi its “Find Your True South.” That was in February 2011, a month or so before Swoope realized his “true south” was several hundred miles away in the Sunshine State.
It turns out Swoope went to that same well in June to find a marketing firm to give Florida a new business brand, hiring Nashville’s North Star to a $205,000 contract. The Nashville Cats got the deal over four Florida finalists.
Really bad form on Swoope’s part, says Robert Trigaux, business editor for the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times).
“I have to admire Enterprise Florida’s arrogant decision to outsource a six-figure job to identify the agency’s “Florida business brand” to a Tennessee company.”
Trigaux wasn’t finished: “This deal is a head-scratcher. A Florida agency that exists to find more jobs for this state is paying a business elsewhere to market and research Florida — instead of giving the job to folks who live and work here, presumably “know” Florida well and certainly could use the work.
Some Florida marketing firms said they were not even made aware of the project and failed to compete for the job.
For Gov. Rick Scott, who chairs Enterprise Florida, his aging mantra may be “jobs, jobs, jobs,” but just not necessarily jobs in Florida, the St. Pete business editor says.
Outsourcing a job to Nashville to build a Florida brand? Glad we can help its economy, Trigaux wrote.
Swoope has to hope his exporting of jobs from Florida doesn’t generate the kind of backlash that occurred in 2008 when lawmakers learned VisitFlorida, the tourism arm of Enterprise Florida, had hired a call center in Kansas City, Mo., to promote Florida as a vacation destination.
VisitFlorida shipped $600,000 of Florida’s greenbacks to Missouri to cover a one-year contract for telemarketing firm USA800. The firm fields calls from and sends brochures to tourists interested in vacationing in the Sunshine State. It got the nod over Global Response, a Fort Lauderdale area telemarketing firm.
The VisitFlorida deal went down just as Florida began shedding jobs by the tens of thousands. It was too much for legislators to stomach. By the next legislative session, they cut VisitFlorida’s budget significantly and put the agency’s leadership on a seriously tight leash.
Swoope is Florida’s chief economic development salesman. His job is to portray Florida workers as the best of the best. How do you do that in an earnest fashion when you lack sufficient faith in Florida workers to put them to work on a key business marketing contract?
I’m sure the folks in Mississippi would have been asking Swoope the same question after his hiring of Tennessee’s North Star had he not already had his bags packed and his GPS set on “True South.”
Shipping jobs out of a state such as Florida with near double-digit unemployment won’t get you too many attaboys come job review time – especially when you are suppose to be the state’s key job creator
In fact, it may cause you to have to reset your GPS from “True South” to “True North.”