TALLAHASSEE -- It was a simple campaign mantra and the yardstick by which Gov. Rick Scott will be judged when he goes back before voters: 700,000 jobs in seven years.
At the midpoint of his first term, the Republican political neophyte hasn't shied from the campaign pledge that he spent one-third of his $218 million in personal wealth to convey to voters in 2010.
"So we're doing the right things, and it is working. Would I like everybody that wants a job in Florida to have a job already? Yeah. I wish we were already there, but we're headed in the right direction."
But the numbers tell a more complex story. The economy is recovering like gangbusters in some traditional Sunshine State boom sectors such as tourism. But by some measures, Florida is in worse shape now than when Scott took office.
Floridians' per-capita income has been flat since Scott was inaugurated. Though the jobless rate has dropped, more than half of the decline is attributed to people leaving the work force. Two key job sectors -- construction and government employment -- actually employ fewer people today than in 2010.
And though Florida's tourism and professional-services sectors are humming, others such as retail, education and transportation are projected to produce fewer jobs than economists had predicted two years ago. Indeed, projections that Florida would create 632,100 jobs by 2015 have been cut back to 454,900 jobs.
So how do voters decide whether Scott's jobs agenda is working?
In coming weeks, the Orlando Sentinel will look in-depth at whether the ex-corporate CEO has made inroads in his signature "7-7-7" plan to create jobs, cut taxes, reform government entitlements, slash regulation on development and promote "world-class universities."
By many measures, the governor can claim progress on regulatory and unemployment reforms, modest tax cuts and new companies pledging to add jobs for a price. But his track record has been clouded by an inability to move much of his agenda through the Legislature.
And there's another, bigger problem in trying to assess Scott's progress: Economists and policymakers alike say it's pointless to try to determine how many jobs the governor should be given credit for creating. That's because Florida's economy is powerfully shaped by national and international trends that no governor has power to influence.
The downgraded jobs forecast, for instance, is largely attributed to the European debt crisis, uncertainty over the "fiscal cliff" in the U.S., and Florida's slower-than-expected processing of foreclosed homes and sales.
"The total jobs numbers are going to be controlled by the global economic environment. No governor can control that," said Tony Villamil, an economics professor and dean of the Business School at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens and member of Enterprise Florida's directors. "I never wanted someone to say, 'I will create 700,000 jobs in seven years.' "
The jobs numbers tell a complicated, seemingly contradictory story of economic recovery as the state emerged from the Great Recession.
Florida's unemployment rate was 11.4 percent in January 2011 -- and was down to 8.1 percent in November. In raw numbers, that translates to 160,000 more people with jobs. An additional 760,000 people were unemployed and looking for work in a labor force of 9.3 million.
But state economists reported recently that 57 percent of this year's drop in the jobless rate was because fewer workers are seeking jobs -- and that the state was still 703,000 jobs below its pre-recession peak. Simply put, while new jobs are being created, an even greater number of workers have left the labor force.
What's more, given Florida's population growth, economists said it would take 1 million new jobs to get back to the same pre-recession level of employment.
Still, the governor's mantra heading into the second half of his term is that Florida's economic picture has dramatically improved.
"We've had great progress on getting our state back to work," Scott told reporters this month, touting his seven trade missions to Brazil, Spain, Colombia, Canada and elsewhere to "develop relationships" with companies.