I worked for Mayor Hayward when the first phase of the ST Aerospace deal got done. I wrote press releases about it. And despite my personal qualms that the cost per job was maybe too high, I cautiously supported this deal that would bring good-paying aviation industry jobs to Pensacola.
So it isn’t easy for me to reverse course as the city, now under a new mayor, contemplates a major expansion of the ST Aerospace campus which involves incentives of well over $100 million in city, county, state, and federal taxpayer dollars.
Tuesday, Mayor Robinson will ask the city council to approve an additional $5 million in city taxpayer dollars for the project. I can’t fault him for trying to bring a project he inherited in for a landing.
The time has come for us to say no, however.
If the deal moves forward as proposed, city taxpayers will spend more than $17 million on this project over the next five years. That’s $17 million that won’t be spent on sidewalks and bike lanes, in a city that has more pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths per capita than New York and Chicago combined. That’s $17 million we won’t spend on stormwater and drainage infrastructure in a city whose downtown floods if it rains for more than a few minutes. That’s $17 million we won’t spend on public safety in a city whose police and fire departments are understaffed and underpaid.
We cannot afford this deal.
We cannot afford to continue neglecting critical spending in favor of bribing companies to bring jobs here.
For decades, elected leaders in Pensacola and Escambia County have been addicted to this model of economic development. It’s the easy way: spend a few million bucks, get those sweet jobs and photo ops, and have a record to run on for reelection. The alternative is a lot less sexy: spend those dollars on infrastructure, slowly creating over many years a city which can attract business and jobs without big incentives.
What’s worse is that our continued indulgence in this sort of corporate welfare locks us into a cycle that will be hard to break. If we move forward with this deal, we’ll eventually have to spend more money to get ST Aerospace to stay, or to bribe a company to replace them, because we won’t have spent the money on the infrastructure we need to compete on a level playing field. And the cycle will continue.
We all want our community to have good paying jobs. We all want Pensacola to be successful. But it’s time for us to grow up. Much like a twenty-something saving to buy a new home instead of buying a flashy new car they can’t afford, it’s time for us to invest our money in the unsexy but critical expenses that will benefit us in the long term, rather than on the easy short-term gains.