Trading Red Tape For The Red Carpet: Why Companies Are Choosing Florida

CEOs looking for a business-friendly climate, with a deep pipeline of future employees with the requisite skills, are turning to the Sunshine State.

Scott Absher, CEO of gig engagement platform provider, ShiftPixy wasn’t planning to move the company’s headquarters from California to Florida—at least, not at first. At the time, in 2019, ShiftPixy was having trouble penetrating the thriving East Coast restaurant industry and Absher figured a hub somewhere on the Atlantic, preferably close to Latin America, which already had been in the expansion plans, would help. “But as we got into the [Florida] market, we started to see there would be some strong benefits for the company to be headquartered here.” 

The friendly business climate was one benefit, as were the favorable personal economics for employees transitioning from high-priced California. But there was also something less tangible, though equally compelling: a sense of optimism and excitement that reminded Absher of Silicon Valley in the 1990s. “We were seeing a really vibrant business culture here,” he says. “It was a very exciting place to be.” 

With talent as scarce as it is, CEOs are understandably looking for locations where they can be assured of a deep pipeline of future employees with the requisite skills. Academia traditionally has operated independently of business, but some states, like Florida, are incentivizing universities to consider business needs when devising curricula—something that gives Absher confidence about his human capital strategy going forward. “There is some very innovative thinking happening at the university level in terms of, what do we need to do to help more people come here to Florida to build businesses and create jobs?” he says. “I would not expect to see that in West Coast institutions.” 

That is intentional, says Henry Mack, Chancellor of the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Career and Adult Education, who notes that the state was already heavily focused on how to deliver on collective workforce needs when Covid-19 struck—and hit Florida’s hospitality industry especially hard. As soon as CARES Act funds became available, the state set aside $35 million for immediate reskilling and retraining of workers in those impacted industries. “We only allowed colleges to apply for those monies to be used for high-value credentialing programs,” says Mack, who estimate that about 17,000 impacted Covid workers have been trained in the short-term certification programs, which demonstrated “the institutions’ ability to basically reverse-engineer and adapt their curriculum on a dime” to fill employment gaps. He adds that those curricula were developed “with industry at the table” and says it has led to the expanded Get There Florida Initiative, a program in partnership with the state’s 28 Florida College System institutions and 48 technical colleges. It accelerates students’ time to completion of an in-demand, high-value industry certification or postsecondary workforce credential, and programs include advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, healthcare and information technology. 

That enthusiasm for working with business—not against—won over Michael Martocci, CEO of branded promotional products maker SwagUp. The company still has a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in New Jersey, but Martocci is doubling down on building roots in Miami “and making this the innovation hub for us.” He was especially impressed when he saw Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez tweeting to different companies about how the city could better embrace business and attract more people. “I reached out to him right away,” says Martocci, adding, “I couldn’t even tell you the name of the mayor of the city where we were based in New Jersey.” 

Tom Hoverson, CEO of food manufacturer Comarco Products, had a similar experience when he attempted to purchase a building in Camden, New Jersey, and got caught in a red-tape nightmare. Instead, he purchased a building in Palatka, Florida with enough space for a 1,200-pallet freezer, eliminating the need for the third-party warehouse they previously contracted and simplifying the steps in production. Since the move last year, Comarco has added 60 employees, almost doubling his workforce. “One of the pleasant surprises is how welcome we’ve been made to feel by everyone—local government, state government, the county,” says Hoverson. “It’s just a real change from our [previous]—like day-and-night different.” 

“People forget,” Absher adds, “money goes where it’s treated best. There are some states that have become hostile to the business community and what you’re going to see is this erosion in some of the time-honored markets. If you want to anchor your business somewhere, stability is really important.”