Politicians frantic to create jobs

One day after President Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address that creating jobs would be his No. 1 focus, he used both of Florida's coasts Thursday to try to back up that promise.

On the west coast, Obama appeared in Tampa to announce plans for a high-speed train that would connect that city's downtown with Orlando International Airport. The crowd was so elated that the president, at times, was difficult to hear.

Meanwhile, an administration official appeared simultaneously on the east coast with a decidedly more somber group. John Fernandez, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, met with about a dozen people heavily engaged in the fight to save jobs in Brevard County as the space shuttle program ends.

Democrat U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, who organized the meeting along with Brevard Workforce, on Thursday called Obama's proposed budget for NASA "unacceptable."

Patty Stratton of United Space Alliance told Fernandez, "We are in a crisis."

The Commerce Department has already provided some training dollars to space workers who expect to lose their jobs. Fernandez talked generally about other grants and potential ways of attracting venture money that would help diversify Brevard beyond the space industry.

He said incubators, which help new businesses get up and running, are important.

"But you've got to have the secret sauce," he said, alluding to access to capital, a pool of talented executives and other start-up obstacles.

JetBlue deal valued at $40 million

For months it's been no secret that our mayoral duo — Rich Crotty of Orange County and Buddy Dyer of Orlando — has done everything but send a daily bouquet of flowers to JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger in hopes of persuading him to bring as many as 800 jobs from New York to Orlando.

Now, sources say, the mayors, with the help of Gov. Charlie Crist, have submitted an offer to Barger valued at about $40 million.

The proposal includes aid to help build JetBlue additional space near its existing training center at Orlando International Airport. Tax credits for new jobs and other perks are thrown in as well.

Gaby Hawat, special assistant to the president for strategic initiatives at Valencia Community College, said the school came to the table with free transitional space for the airline in exchange for the college being selected as its primary training provider. The college owns 15,400-square-feet of space near the airport that is currently vacant.

It's unclear whether JetBlue would take them up on the employee training offer considering the airline already has an impressive training operation of its own here.

"They may say we're all self-contained, thank you very much," Hawat said.

But the offer doesn't hurt

JetBlue continues to get plenty of pressure from its current hometown. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Barger last week urging him to accept an incentive package offered by New York state and New York City to remain in Queens.

Schumer called it a "generous and creative offer that I have reviewed and think is a win-win for JetBlue and the people of New York," according to the Daily News.

Will EDC verify job numbers?

The board of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission met this week for the first time since Chairwoman Meg Crofton said in December that the agency should consider verifying the job creation numbers it boasts about so often.

Last year this column reported on how many of the jobs the agency said it created in 2008 and 2009 have yet to materialize.

Crofton, president of Walt Disney World, brought the issue up at the meeting this week.

Spokeswoman Maureen Brockman said the board's executive committee would likely take up the possible change next month, and the full board would likely make a decision in March.

That's a lot of machinations to begin a simple procedure that the agency should have been doing in the first place. But it's a step in the right direction.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.

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