Florida has the second best business environment in the nation, according to Chief Executive magazine, though the recent dustup with Disney World has industry observers watching Governor Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers more closely. The Sunshine State has long held the second spot, with Texas still undefeated as the top state since the survey began in 2001. Of note, the magazine made it clear that its survey had already been completed before the high-profile showdown with Disney occured.
All 50 states are ranked on a variety of categories, from taxation to regulatory environment, education, quality of life and population growth, to name a few. Florida has consistently outpaced all but Texas over the last decade.
But in a rare departure from the typically glowing annual review, the magazine noted the actions by DeSantis and state lawmakers to strip Disney of its special district status has business leaders wary:
Yet, DeSantis’s high-profile battle with Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek over references to sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida’s elementary school curriculum, labeled “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents (which came to a head after this year’s Best & Worst States polling was conducted), threatens one of the coziest relationships between a state and a big company anywhere in the country.
Will the battle raise alarms with other CEOs who’ve come to count on Florida as a home for their companies? That’s going to be an open question in the months to come—though likely more for high-profile Fortune 500 CEOs such as Chapek, under increasing pressure by progressives and conservatives alike to take stands on social issues, than for CEOs of mid-market manufacturing and service companies, who still make most of the siting decisions in this country. If history is a guide, they may not take as much notice of the extended political theatrics by DeSantis, who is said to have presidential aspirations.
As an indicator of just how concerned business leaders are, the magazine devoted a substantial portion of its lead article to Florida’s battle with Disney. Even the subheadline raised concerns: “Based on polling of nearly 700 CEOs and business owners, the Lone Star State placed No. 1 again, Florida No. 2. But will changing politics change the game?” the article asked.
This year the rankings noted several major business investments in Florida over the past 12 months, including IT consulting firm Synergy Technologies adding 300 new jobs in Jacksonville, Scotlynn USA opening a new U.S. headquarters in Fort Myers, Pfizer announcing plans in February 2021 to open a global capacity hub in Tampa, KPMG doubling its investment in its Orlando operations along with 350 additional jobs in May of last year. Also, InnovaCare moved its headquarters from New York to Orlando in July 2021, Grant Thornton established a center of excellence and created 60 new jobs in Orlando in July 2021, Terran Orbital announced in September 2021 a $300 million investment and 2,100 new jobs at its Commercial Spacecraft and Constellation Facility in Merritt Island.
Overall, the Sunshine State is still well positioned to retain its overall status as a top business destination, but business executives are closely watching to see how the political landscape could impact business operations for more companies.