TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – There will be more Wawas in Florida, just don't expect to find one in a Wawa, Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott went to Philadelphia this week with a team of economic-development and education leaders. And so far, all the Sunshine State has got is a reaffirmation that Wawa Inc. will continue to open hoagie-making convenience stores across Florida.
Try as he might, Scott's was unable to conclude his first domestic "business development mission" by bringing south the Wawa, Pa.-based company's headquarters.
Philadelphia reporters, during a videotaped press conference Monday, noted that Scott even offered to change the name of a town in Florida to Wawa --- after the company, not the Native American word for a Canadian goose that the company is named after.
"I wasn't very successful," Scott quipped.
The semi-serious relocation incentive --- tossed on the table with other potential economic incentives --- would have emulated the unincorporated community of Wawa in Pennsylvania's Delaware County that houses the headquarters of Wawa Food Markets and about 300 of the company's employees.
While Scott pitched Florida's lack of a personal income tax, Wawa Chief Executive Officer Chris Gheysens said the decision to remain in the company's longtime home is best for company employees.
"It wasn't about … tax breaks and things like that, it's what's best for our associates," Gheysens said.
The company, which has opened 61 stores in Florida since July 2012, plans to spend $75 million for offices and test kitchens at its Chester Heights, Delaware County campus.
Gheysens praised Florida's regulatory environment for allowing growth to occur rapidly.
The company plans to open 50 more stores in the next two years from Daytona Beach across Central Florida to the Southwest coast.
The Sun Sentinel newspaper noted earlier this year that Wawa was scouting for South Florida locations, with plans to open 100 to 150 stores in the region over the next decade.
Scott declined to name what other companies he courted during the brief incursion to the city at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers
But Scott plans further business-development missions. Trips are expected to Massachusetts, the home to Cumberland Farms; New York, which headquarters the Dairy Barn and Stewart's Shop chains of regional convenience stores; and Illinois, where people can fuel and food up at Road Ranger shops and Fast N Fresh Stores.
THE GROWING FIGHT OVER AMENDMENT 1 MONEY
The pressure is building as lawmakers figure out how to meet the desire of Florida voters to boost funding for environmental conservation.
With the legislative session ready start Tuesday, the Everglades Trust advocacy group this week rolled out what it says is a six-figure TV, radio and online campaign imploring legislators to use a large chunk --- about $350 million --- of this year's Amendment 1 money to purchase U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee.
Meanwhile, a diverse group of business-advocacy groups and faith-based organizations have teamed up to oppose a portion of a measure (SB 586) that would reduce money going to affordable housing to meet the new environmental funding requirements of Amendment 1.
"There is enough money in doc-stamp distributions to fund both fully," Mark Hendrickson, executive director of the Florida Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities, said during a news conference Thursday held by the Sadowski Coalition. "It isn't Amendment 1 versus housing, it's how are the doc stamps to be distributed. There are plenty of revenues in doc stamps to fully fund every penny that the voters voted for and continue the 16 percent for housing."
The coalition comprises about 30 statewide groups, from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Home Builders Association to Habitat for Humanity, the Florida Veterans Foundation and the Florida Coalition for the Homeless.
Currently, about 20 percent of the approximately $1.6 billion expected to be raised this year in real-estate documentary stamp tax revenues goes to environmental purposes.
Another 16 percent goes to affordable housing, 20 percent to transportation and most of the rest goes into general revenue. The voter-approved amendment bumps the environmental portion to 33 percent for the next two decades.
The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.
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