PALMETTO -- On his second visit to Manatee County in a week, Gov. Rick Scott used fast-growing entertainment company Feld Entertainment as a backdrop Tuesday for an ongoing push for job growth in Florida.
Speaking on stage in the company's 3-year-old South Rehearsal Hall in Palmetto, the governor used the appearance to congratulate the company for hitting employment growth targets it promised under a $3.8 million incentive deal. In three years, Feld has added 235 jobs to its workforce at its 550,000-square-foot headquarters where it has consolidated its business. Those jobs carry an average wage of $104,000.
"Feld Entertainment is a growth company," Scott said to a crowd of more than 100 Feld employees, public officials and journalists. "In the
last two years, they've added 93 jobs right in this area."
Feld, which stages live entertainment shows including Disney on Ice, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and Marvel Universe Live in more than 70 nations each year, moved from its former Virginia headquarters in 2012 to Palmetto. Under a deal with the state and county, it received millions in incentive funds for investing $20 million in remodeling a former Siemens manufacturing building and bringing jobs to the area.
Scott talked a job growth theme at Feld that was nearly identical to what he said during a shipping berth dedication he attended last week at Port Manatee. He noted Florida has added 801,000 private sector jobs over the past four years, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
More than 14,000 new jobs were added in January, bringing the state's unemployment rate to 5.7 percent, unchanged from December, according to national figures released Tuesday. That's down from 6.5 percent a year earlier. The state added 13,900 jobs over the month and is now up nearly 275,000 jobs from January 2014.
Manatee County's unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in January, up from 5 percent the month before but down from 6.1 percent in January 2014, according to numbers released Tuesday. Sarasota County's unemployment rate was at 5.6 percent, also up from 5 percent the month before but down from 6.4 percent the previous year. The February unemployment numbers are expected out March 27.
Feld officials say their company will add to the numbers of new hires. Kenneth Feld, the company's CEO, said over the next two decades, his company will add $4.1 billion to the state's overall economy. Future job growth in Palmetto is part of that.
Casey Rodgers, the company's vice president of finance and strategy, said much of the job growth so far has come from consolidating Feld's workforce in Palmetto. In all, the company employs about 2,500 people, with about 450 working locally.
Scott said he is watching legislative efforts to further incentivize entertainment and film companies to locate operations in Florida, but was noncommittal about his support of those efforts. His visit to Manatee County this week is part of a set of appearances around the state he is using to promote his economic agenda as the Legislature considers a budget for the coming year.
"We're in the middle of session and I'm going to continue to promote the things I'm interested in," he said.
Local government and economic development officials portrayed Feld's growth and the governor's two rapid-fire visits to the county as signs of an ever-brightening economy. Neil Spirtas, senior vice president and public policy director at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said Feld's story is one in which the state and county had roles.
"The state and county are doing an excellent job," he said. "Feld is a good indicator."
County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh had similar sentiments about how local and state economic development works hand in hand.
"It just shows the relationship we have," she said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.