High-tech promising for Florida, but no ‘magic bullet’

For years now Florida politicians have attempted to turn the I-4 corridor into a high-tech sector in which “white-collar” jobs thrive. The idea behind this is to bring in high-paying jobs by giving incentives to companies that promise to bring such jobs to the region. But there are problems with this technique that are often not sufficiently considered.

Such expansion has been actively supported by the local authorities to help make the dream of a clean, prosperous state that is not dependent on heavy industry a reality. This dream is an enticing one, considering areas of Florida are quite rural in character and jobs are hard to come by.

Yet, companies can leave as fast as they came, since the main benefit of such high technology jobs is that they can be moved rather fast.

This weekend, The St. Petersburg Times featured an article detailing how Florida authorities have spent millions of dollars in order to convince the financial company JPMorgan Chase & Co. to bring jobs to Florida. According to the Times, $21 million of benefits and a tax break worth up to $74.5 million had been in the cards for the company and approximately $13.3 million had already been disbursed.

An enormous sum of taxpayer money had been handed over to a corporation in the hopes it would bring high-paying jobs in return. But while the corporation kept promising to bring jobs to Florida, it was actively cutting jobs at the same time and now has shut down some of its subsidies, including a call center, entirely.

This is only logical. Florida hopes to attract companies to the state by giving them benefits they are not getting elsewhere. But there is no reason to expect other states or countries will sit idly by without trying to attract such companies themselves.

This creates a bidding war in which competing regions try to out-bid each other by offering increasingly enticing and fiscally unrealistic benefits to the companies they hope to attract. For the companies this is good, as they can readily move where the conditions are best while giving the job market of a region a much-needed bounce.

The problem arises when regions, Florida included, can only compete so long in this arms race and sooner or later lose out to regions willing to shill even more. The companies that were once wooed on the premise they could easily bring high-paying jobs to Florida move away as fast as they came.

The costs to compete with other regions in an increasingly global market are enormous, but other costs also have to be considered.

High-tech jobs require a certain amount of education, which again costs money. According to a report by the magazine Education Week, Florida ranked 47th in a list of all 50 states based on the education budget of 2001-02 (the newest data available). Even if companies come to Florida based on benefits offered to them, they often bring the labor force in with them, bringing capital to the region but creating few new jobs for locals.

Florida’s history thus is somewhat ironic. The growth spur that is still causing massive urban sprawl in Florida started in the sixties when emerging technologies made the state attractive in ways it hadn’t been before. The use of air-conditioning units started to become commonplace, even in homes, and Florida’s subtropical climate finally became bearable.

This was coupled with the space missions that put Florida on the map in the ’60s. Lunar missions were regularly launched from Cape Canaveral, giving the eastern end of what now makes up the I-4 corridor the name “Space Coast,” a name the area still proudly presents on street signs to this day.

But the glory days, when Florida was a launching pad to the stars, have waned a bit. The Space Shuttle has been all but mothballed following the disastrous accident that killed the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Even though a new shuttle is on the drawing board, it looks as though it may be years before it launches, and it still isn’t known if it will indeed launch from Florida.

While it may sound good when politicians promise to bring in high-paying jobs, “white-collar” jobs are hardly the magic bullet they are often portrayed as.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and the Oracle’s Opinion Editor.