Mayor Jeri Muoio to Board of Governors: Don’t take away jobs from our state!

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West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio speaking to the Florida Board of Governors committee in Orlando.

(Orlando, FL) – Today West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio urged the Florida Board of Governors not to take away new jobs and a new economic industry from the state of Florida.

Mayor Muoio spoke before a Select Committee of the Florida Board of Governors, explaining how moving the FSU Digital Media Arts program out of West Palm Beach would abruptly and permanently put to an end to a three year process that today promises real, concrete, measureable jobs and economic growth for the state of Florida.

“We thank the members of the Board of Governors for their time today, but this is not an issue and opportunity that should be decided by this Board,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.

“This is about a three year plan to build a new industry cluster here in our state that will provide jobs and boost the state’s economy.  We intend to take our discussion to the individuals most able to appreciate its potential such as the Florida Office of Economic Opportunity, Enterprise Florida and the Governor,” said Muoio

Mayor Muoio led an economic development team that traveled to Orlando to speak to members of the Florida Board of Governors.  The Board members are expected to make a recommendation regarding whether to keep the FSU program in West Palm Beach.

The remarks follow a closed-door meeting earlier in the day with Board of Governors Vice Chair Morteza “Mori” Hosseini in Daytona Beach.

The city’s remarks to the Board of Governors are below:

 

STATE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF FLORIDA

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

Select Committee on Florida State University

Academic Film Program Offerings in West Palm Beach

February 8, 2013

REMARKS BY THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH

 

Speakers:

Jeri Muoio

Mayor

City of West Palm Beach, Florida

 

Kim Briesemeister

Executive Director

City of West Palm Beach

Community Redevelopment Agency

 

 

Chairman Hosseini; Select Committee Members;

 

Thank you for the opportunity to present to you how critically important the emerging field of digital technology is for our city and for the state of Florida overall.

 

To fully appreciate what we have accomplished; what we are currently doing; and what we are planning to do, we are directing our remarks this afternoon, not to you as simply three members of the Board of Governors, but to you as three successful individuals in the business world.

 

Individuals who I know understand how to maximize a return on investment by taking the initiative to make that investment grow.

 

There is only one issue that hangs in the balance that has the potential to impact the overall growth of our state.  That issue is job creation, and whether the decisions made here either support the creation of new employment and industry here in Florida, or whether they abruptly and permanently put an end to what has been a three year process that today promises real, concrete, measureable results.

 

 

Our city has invested three years and millions of dollars in the idea that FSU can serve, and already is serving as the catalyst to create a new economy and industry here in Florida.

 

First, a brief history of our investment to date:

 

  • We have paid two million dollars of our taxpayer’s money, as promised, in exchange for a fully accredited, up and running Bachelors of Arts program, with students and faculty in place.

 

 

  • We’ve taken $6 million additional dollars and placed it in the bank, to use as hard cash dollars to attract businesses interested in hiring the talented pool of young minds graduating from the program.

 

 

  • During this transition, we’ve set aside $200,000 dollars to assist FSU with the cost of rent for their administrative and classroom space for 28 students, their instructors and all administration personnel.

 

  • Last year we hired a full time economic development director who has been charged with growing a digital technology cluster using FSU as the incubator.

 

  • Also, remaining in place from our original commitment, is an additional $15 million dollar bonding incentive available for a developer to building a digital technology building or buildings.

 

For three years, we have worked to put all the pieces in place needed to create a new digital media industry cluster in our state. There are three essential elements to the plan:

 

  • An academic program able to produce highly specialized and uniquely talented individuals…

 

 

  • Private industry willing to locate around that academic program to take advantage of the opportunity to partner with the program, and capitalize on the ready-made pool of available talent….

 

 

  • A city that provides two things: first an environment and lifestyle in which the companies want to live, work and play, and second, the promise to make a significant investment to attract and retain those companies.

 

 

These are not pie-in-the-sky economic hopes.  As we stand here today, there are real companies ready to invest heavily in this plan.  They stand ready to take the steps to either move or expand their operations in order to partner with the city and with FSU.

 

The only thing standing in their way is uncertainty.

 

What we have been working towards for the past three years is not unlike former Governor Jeb Bush’s vision of creating a BioTech corridor in our state.

 

What began with Scripps Research in a single building has expanded into an entire bio tech cluster surrounded by start-ups and spin-off companies covering over 20 square miles.

 

Digital animation and imaging holds the same promise.

 

With the exit of Digital Domain, the private industry piece was briefly lost. But within days of its departure, several companies approached the city wanting to step in.

 

There are several companies that have met with us, scouted locations to relocate, and said they are ready to go.  The only reason they haven’t yet moved forward is because of the recent uncertainty that has brought us here today.

 

Several businesses have or are in the process of submitting letters of interest, which, as you know, is the necessary first step before we are able to begin crafting relocation incentive packages.

 

They don’t know if FSU is staying or going. They stepped forward believing FSU would be a long term partner.

 

But they have made one thing crystal clear. If you pull the FSU program, these companies will walk away from the table, and will not come back.

 

They are not interested in partnering with a program unless it has all three of the elements I mentioned.  And to them, our city is one of the essential elements.

 

If the decision is made to move the students out of our city, these companies and their jobs, the economic development that comes with those jobs, and the promise of a new industry in the state of Florida will be lost.

 

To recreate this elsewhere would be a significant challenge, and if you try, you are sacrificing our progress with no promise of success elsewhere.

 

The companies have all indicated that the city’s fiscal commitment is a critical part of the deal. It is a commitment we stand ready to follow through. I don’t think it is the kind of commitment you will find elsewhere.

 

Also as we stand here today, developers are also anxiously waiting to take advantage of the prime piece of downtown real estate owned by the city, and available to construct a new, unique urban academic complex where the businesses, students and the city can move forward with our plan to create jobs, and bring an entirely new industry to the state of Florida.

 

It is important that we all have a clear picture of what has happened up to this point.

 

  • First, to emphasize the commitment we have shown over the past three years.

 

  • Second, to remind the members of the Board that we wouldn’t be here talking about this program if it were not for our city’s investment.  It was our $2 million dollars that helped create the very curriculum we are here today to discuss.

 

 

  • Third, I also mention the dollars to remind you that these dollars are critical to the attraction and retention of the kinds of private sector businesses that will make this a success.

 

 

Let’s get down to specifics.

 

Right from the start, I want to make it clear that we are not seeking to continue down a hypothetical path of economic development.

 

The principle architect over the past three years has been Kim Briesemeister, the Executive Director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. I would ask her to step up, and run through the specifics of where we are today.

 

 

As we speak, the FSU program is already up and running. It has infrastructure. It has students. It has faculty.

 

Since the departure of Digital Domain, the City of West Palm Beach has met with or entered into discussions with approximately a half dozen companies looking to relocate or expand operations.

 

One of these companies has been called “Pod 15” due to confidentiality requirements. It is an international visual effects company with a global network of studios in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, Beijing and most recently Toronto.  It is a well-established industry leader that has been operating for over a decade.

 

Based on our three years or work, “Pod 15” executives are looking to expand to our state, calling our plan to integrate business with FSU “brilliant.”

 

A second company, also given an alias because they filed with the state for anonymity, is a defense contractor which has operated for over a half century. They develop and provide high technology Electronics, Avionics, and Communications systems, and currently employ over 2,000 individuals.  They too approached us unsolicited based on our model and they too are waiting to see what you decide.

 

There are two companies already located in South Florida. Olympusat is an international digital cable content provider, and Watermark Medical, which is a privately held healthcare information technology company.

 

We’ve had discussions with both, and both are interested in partnering with the city and FSU.

 

I’ve heard some say that their interest should be discounted because they are already located in our state. But any reputable economic development expert will tell you that 80% of new jobs are created through the expansion of existing businesses.

 

Finally, just this week we spoke to the head of a company called Stargate Studios.  Stargate Studios is an international production company providing concept development, advanced production services and state-of-the-art postproduction.  They also are interested in moving to Florida and bringing jobs with them.

 

I can’t emphasize enough today that all these companies, and others approached us.

 

  • We have not sought them out.

 

 

  • We have not campaigned to get them here.

 

 

  • They are interested even before we have a commitment that FSU will stay.

 

 

These are the companies interested before we even know if FSU is remaining.  Imagine the interest and the job creation potential once that uncertainty is removed.

 

 

These companies are a representative cross section of industries that can be a powerful new job creation engine for our state.  They understand the potential of the path we have been on for three years, and they are interested in joining us…even today…without knowing if FSU will be staying or not.

 

This is not about making movies.  It is about the digital imaging and animation business. Digital imaging crosses countless industries. As you’ve seen just from the few companies we’ve mentioned today, the potential for job growth extends in many directions.

 

West Palm Beach is not trying to create an FSU, FAU, U of F, UCF or any other new college campus in our City.

 

What we are creating is a digital technology industry.

 

Realize what a tremendous economic opportunity this is for Florida, and what a tragedy it would be to sacrifice its potential, and lose the jobs and growth it will deliver.

 

We need jobs here in our state. The FSU / West Palm Beach partnership holds that potential.

 

Not because I say so.

 

And not because FSU may say so.

 

But because private industry says so.

 

They go where the growth is, and where you find that growth you also find jobs.

 

Don’t take away what are almost certain jobs for our state, and the promise of a new industry here in Florida.