By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Check it out — a $3 million press release.
When the state of Florida handed over incentive funds of $3 million to airline AirTran in 2008 for a new systems-operations center, the deal included a caveat: a public announcement of AirTran’s featly to Florida, or what is referred to in the contract as the “public announcement of intent to remain and grow in Orlando.”
It was listed among other requirements of the seven-figure, taxpayer-funded economic incentive, which included things like job creation and the continuation of a lease with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
“Orlando will remain our nerve center for our fast-growing network as well as our headquarters city,” AirTran’s president Robert Fornaro promised in the January 2, 2008 presser. He thanked then-Gov. Charlie Crist and Enterprise Florida “for forming a partnership that will benefit AirTran Airways and, we believe, Central Florida, for many, many years.”
There was no mention of the $3 million incentive payment, although someone familiar with the work of Enterprise Florida could have read between the lines. And the Associated Press made sure to include the gift in its account of the presser.
While the press release also promised to “add high paying jobs in Florida,” within six months Fornaro announced the company was instead going to cut pay.
And “many, many years” turned out to be about two, as Southwest Airlines bought AirTran in 2010 and moved its headquarters to Dallas.