Enterprise Florida, Gray Swoope: Florida's top job recruiter gets large raise

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott's top job recruiter is getting a raise.

The board of Enterprise Florida, the organization set up to lure companies to the state, approved a new two-year contract on Thursday for president and CEO Gray Swoope. The new contract allows Swoope to make up to $375,000 in salary and bonuses - or a 25 percent increase over what he makes now.

The board, led by Scott, signed off on the raise with a unanimous vote at its meeting Thursday. Members have contended that Swoope's pay needed a boost to bring it in line with other top economic development officials around the country. They have also said Swoope, who is known as Florida's commerce secretary, was exceeding goals.

Although Scott did not address the new contract during the meeting, he praised Enterprise Florida under Swoope's leadership.

"Our state's busy again," Scott said. "This state is getting back to work."

Swoope, who was recruited by Scott away from Mississippi, is eligible for $300,000 under his current contract. His base salary of $230,000 comes from taxpayers, while he is also eligible for a bonus which comes from private contributions. Swoope has gotten a $70,000 bonus the past two years.

The new deal structures his base salary and incentive pay at $275,000 and makes Swoope eligible for an additional $100,000 bonus.

The new contract - which runs until July 2015 - also guarantees a payment of $137,500 to Swoope even if he is removed from his job by the next governor. This gives Swoope some insurance in case someone defeats Scott during the 2014 election.

Since 2011 Florida's unemployment rate has fallen to 7 percent. Swoope and Scott have trumpeted several high-profile deals including one that resulted in car rental company Hertz moving its headquarters to Naples.

On Thursday, Swoope told the Enterprise Florida board that the organization had "great momentum" and highlighted efforts to boost international trade and create an online inventory of retail and office space.

"All over the state, we are trying to do the right thing to foster job creation," he said. "The things that we are doing are resonating in the market and people are responding."

He added: "Everybody's talking about what's happening in Florida. ...We're just now hitting our stride."

But a coalition of conservative and left-leaning groups - including Integrity Florida, the Tea Party Network, Americans for Prosperity-Florida and Progress Florida - has sharply criticized the decision to give Swoope a large raise.

The groups have faulted Enterprise Florida because the organization has been handing out bonuses based on promised jobs instead of ones actually created by economic development deals. On Thursday, the coalition called the new contract fiscally irresponsible.

"Why did the board decide now was the right time for an exorbitant pay increase with more than 600,000 Floridians still looking for jobs," the groups said in a joint statement. "Most Florida employers who are creating private sector jobs are doing so without subsidies from taxpayers."

The decision to give Swoope a bump in pay comes several months after state legislators balked at the amount of money Scott wanted in the state budget to help Enterprise Florida lure companies. Lawmakers also passed legislation designed to bulk up the amount of oversight over business incentives used by the state.

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