|``It's always been an issue,
but now it's in the boardrooms,'' said John H. Boyd, a
prominent New Jersey-based site selector, a professional who advises
companies on relocation decisions.
In the past, Boyd said, ``Florida has attracted a good deal
of investment in data centers and call centers,'' often from Northern
firms wanting both lower costs and an end to such weather-based business
interruptions as blizzards and ice storms.
But hurricanes pose a greater threat, he said, because, unlike
snowstorms, they can destroy buildings. They also can render a company's
workforce homeless or an operations center crippled by a lack of
electricity for weeks, not to mention closing airports and roads.
``Historically, companies have been able to ignore natural
disasters,'' Boyd said. ``Now it cannot be ignored.''
Short term, development officials from around the state are
scrambling to develop outreach efforts that would assuage businesses'
fears about Florida.
``We've had brainstorming sessions with marketing and promotion
agencies,'' said Erin Heston, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Florida, but
``our budget is limited.'' Also, ``our most primary concern right now is a
retention strategy, providing businesses the resources they need to
Frank Nero, who heads the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's
public-private agency in charge of business recruitment, said he was
already sensing at least a temporary lull in people's looking at Florida.
``We have heard from our site selectors that some companies are on
hold or that Florida isn't in the mix right now,'' Nero said.
Some firms, he added, particularly foreign ones, are frightened by
media images of battered communities and homeless individuals and wonder
what that would mean to a company operating here.
``If you were a company from Europe, would you look at moving to
Florida right now,'' Nero asked. ``Others are wondering: Do we move part
of our operations out of Florida?''
Longer term, companies will expect the state to take concrete steps
to ensure that businesses can resume operations quickly after future
hurricanes, said James P. ``J.T.'' Tarlton, president of the Broward
Alliance, the county's development organization.
``How do we support business,'' Tarlton asked, rhetorically. ``How
do we dedicate ourselves to recovery? We need to improve our
An additional headache is that Florida often competes for
facilities with other Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada, where
windstorms aren't an issue.
``We've been asking consultants, and they've been saying that, very
likely, it's going to have a short-term impact, especially with companies
already looking to go to Florida,'' said Lisa Bouchey, managing editor of
Plants Sites & Parks, an online trade publication of the
She added: ``If the same exact thing happens next year or if this
is a pattern we'll see for 25 years, everywhere in the Southeast is
Certainly, companies are willing to overlook potential disruptions
to operations if other assets of a community outweigh them. California,
after all, is by far the most populous state despite occasional
earthquakes, more frequent mudslides and wildfires that rake Southern
California on an annual basis.
And Florida has many assets that companies find attractive,
corporate relocation specialists say. These include a large and growing
population, a friendly business climate and world-class status in
industries ranging from tourism to international trade.
``If they have a specific reason, they'll be there'' regardless of
hurricanes, said Karim Khan, editor in chief of Business Facilities
An example is Kraft Foods, which moved its Latin American division
this year from Rye Brook, N.Y., to Miami.
But when companies don't have a compelling need to be in Florida,
``it's going to look like an unknown quantity,'' Khan said.
The Scripps Research Institute - which is expanding from its San
Diego base in Southern California into Palm Beach County - isn't changing
plans because of the recent hurricanes.
The institute has said it chose South Florida for reasons that
include relatively affordable housing, recreational and leisure
opportunities and a proximity to wealthy communities, where potential
``That comes with the territory,'' Keith McKeown, a spokesman for
Scripps, said of the hurricanes. ``Acts of God, there's not much you can
do about it.''
Similarly, Jim Rosensteele, a spokesman for Conseco Services, an
Indiana-based insurance services firm, said he knew of no plans to
reconsider a case-management center that it's opening in Fort Lauderdale.
Still, there's a clear need to aggressively extol the state's
attributes in the months ahead, the Broward Alliance's Tarlton said.
``You can't overcommunicate at this point,'' he said. ``We must
continue to emphasize that value of the Florida location.''
Rebuilding and relief
Here are some developments affecting businesses in Florida in the
aftermath of four hurricanes:
* Enterprise Florida, the state's development agency, has developed
a website that includes various types of assistance and disaster relief.
Topics include FEMA relief, Small Business Administration programs and
bridge loans from the state. The address is
* CitiFinancial, a subsidiary of CitiGroup, plans to rebuild a
50,000-square-foot operations center that had employed 450 people in
* The Scripps Research Institute says the spate of hurricanes has
not changed its plans to build a major operation in northern Palm Beach