State economic development group names new CEO
By Tom Harlan
Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development organization, is to usher in a new president and CEO by early December.
John Adams, who has led an economic development organization in Laredo, Texas, for the past seven years, is to replace Darrell Kelley, who served as head of Enterprise Florida for three years.
Mr. Kelley retired Aug. 19 due to minor health problems, organization officials said, but stayed on to help find a successor and ensure a smooth transition. He has been named chief operating officer of law firm Holland & Knight.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, Mr. Kelley said he wanted to see Enterprise Florida continue to work to improve health care, education and affordable housing - three areas that would spur state business growth.
Mr. Adams was chosen Oct. 21 after a seven-person search committee comprised of Enterprise Florida officials recommended him to the organization's board of directors.
Enterprise Florida Vice Chairwoman Susan Story, CEO of Gulf Power, led the search committee, which included Mr. Kelley, board members from five regions in Florida, a member of the organization's stakeholders council and the organization's past vice chairman.
Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables and a member of Enterprise Florida's board of directors, represented Southeast Florida.
Enterprise Florida selected executive search firm Korn Ferry International to conduct a national search for candidates. Korn Ferry conducted a three-week search and identified 15 qualified candidates for the position Sept. 9.
Enterprise Florida's search committee selected six candidates from the list Sept. 21 and chose three finalists after interviews in early October.
Gov. Bush, who serves as Enterprise Florida's board chairman, interviewed the three finalists, Mr. Villamil said, and recommended Mr. Adams.
"He did convey to the committee through Susan Story that he was comfortable with any of the three if the committee and board chose one of the other finalists," Mr. Villamil said. "In his view, the three were outstanding."
The search committee selected Mr. Adams by a 5-2 vote for recommendation to the full Enterprise Florida board Oct 21. The board of directors voted to conduct contract negotiations with him.
"It is important to state that even though the search committee vote was not unanimous, the full board afterward voted unanimously in favor of Mr. Adams, agreeing with the committee's majority recommendation," Mr. Villamil said.
In addition to his work as an economic development official in Texas, Mr. Adams has experience as a CEO and ties to international trade.
He was named exporter of the year in 1988 by the US Small Business Administration for his work at a medical products manufacturer and advised multinational companies on foreign trade while working as a bank executive.
He currently leads the Laredo Development Foundation, which has worked to link Laredo as a trade and transportation center with the Americas.
"Mr. Adams has an outstanding record of leadership and accomplishments in economic development and will hit the ground running," Mr. Villamil said. "He will learn quickly about our state and the talented Enterprise Florida team and the board. He has the intelligence, drive and experience to be successful."
Mr. Adams' salary has not been finalized, organization officials said. Mr. Kelley earned about $324,000 last year, including a base salary of $120,000 a year from taxpayer funds and about $204,000 from private funding.
Mr. Adams will lead an Enterprise Florida team focused on four main challenges in coming years, according to Enterprise Florida documents.
The organization is to:
Plan for the global marketplace through free trade agreements, including getting the US and Florida to support the Free Trade Area of the Americas by leveraging the passage of DR-CAFTA.
Create a business environment that welcomes growth in research and development in targeted industries such as information technology, health-care systems and biotechnology.
Diversify Florida's economy outside of tourism and agriculture by attracting quality employers in other industries that lead to economic and job growth.
Implement economic development tools from incentives to infrastructure to create a positive business climate.
Enterprise Florida under Mr. Adams is to continue strategies that began under the leadership of Gov. Bush, Mr. Villamil said, and were implemented by Mr. Kelley and the organization's board.
"I think you will see a highly focused approach toward marketing our state as the top choice for corporations," Mr. Villamil said. "Therefore, business recruitment, retention and expansion are likely to be a major theme. In the international area, we will probably see a significant effort at attracting foreign direct investment."
Mr. Adams' main move will be to intensify Enterprise Florida's emphasis on business recruitment, retention and expansion, Mr. Villamil said.
"No major strategic shifts appear likely, in my view - just blocking and tackling to bring and expand Florida businesses," Mr. Villamil said.