Cissy Proctor can blame her former coworkers for her interest in public service work. Having attended Florida State for her undergraduate and law degrees, Proctor went on to work at a local Tallahassee law firm called Bryant Miller Olive, where she said many of her colleagues “Had been inside state government, inside state agencies, inside the governor’s office, legislature, and really spoke so highly of their time inside stat government. So I kind of got bit by the bug to really go do more public service work.” This led to a series of public service jobs, including serving as Jesse Panuccio’s Deputy of Legislative Affairs Director, his Director of Strategic Business Development, his Chief of Staff, all culminating in her current role as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Executive Director.
Proctor is fluent in Floridian. She believes that it’s important to remove barriers that prevent some of Florida’s people from attaining work, including those who have served jail time and veterans. “When you’re getting out of jail and you have a job waiting on the other end, they’re seeing the recidivism rate go down significantly because you’ve got a job, you’re able to support yourself and your family, and you see a future, which is incredibly important.”
During the interview, she reminisced about her family’s trips to St. Teresa when she was younger, and the meaning the place holds to her today. “It’s a great part of the state. Beautiful beach, [I] go down there quite a bit throughout the year. So, it’s really just something that has a special place in my heart. My husband and I both grew up going down there. We actually have a picture of us before we knew each other in the water together.”
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridan podcast, featuring the sunshine state’s brightest leaders, talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. I’m your host Chris Cate, and in this episode created by SalterMitchellPR, I talk to Cissy Proctor, the Executive Director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. In our conversation, we talk about drawing businesses to Florida, about training Florida’s workforce, and about how DEO works with Governor Scott to create jobs. We also talk [00:00:30] about DEO has become more efficient since it’s creation in 2011, and about how being Chief of Staff helped prepared Director Proctor to lead the agency. And you can hear it all right now.
Direct Proctor, thanks so much for being on the show. I thought I’d open by getting to know you a little bit better. Can you tell me about how you came to Florida and how you ultimately came to be appointed head of Governor Scott’s primary job creation agency?
Cissy Proctor: Yeah, thanks for having me on, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I have been in [00:01:00] Tallahassee and in Florida for a very long time. I actually was born in Baltimore, lived in Kansas City for a little while as my father was doing his residency. Then we moved to Tallahassee. His family is here, my mom’s family is here. I grew up here, I grew up on the north side of town. Really loved growing up here, it’s a great place to be. Ended up getting both my undergrad and law school degree from FSU, and practiced law for a while at a local firm Bright, Miller, Olive for many, many years [00:01:30] with some great folks. A lot of them had been inside state government, inside state agencies, inside the governor’s office, legislature, and really spoke so highly of their time inside state government. So I kind of got bit by the bug to really go do more public service work.
So, I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, and ended up being part of Jesse Panuccio when he came and built his team after the governor appointed him. [00:02:00] I came in as his Deputy of Legislative Affairs Director, served in that role for about six months. Then I was appointed to be Director of Strategic Business Development, the unit that does a lot of the economic development work at the agency, is really the point of contact for Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida, Space Florida, and so many others. I served in that position for about a year and a half before being appointed as Jesse’s Chief of Staff. I served as his Chief of Staff for a year right after Chad Poppell went [00:02:30] over to Department of Management Services. Then when Jesse decided that he wanted to go back into the private sector, I was lucky enough to get appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, which is wonderful. So I’ve been serving in this role for a little over a year and a half now.
Chris Cate: Good. For our listeners who don’t know much about how state agencies operate, can you describe the role of a Chief of Staff and how that job prepared for being the agency head?
Cissy Proctor: The Chief of Staff really has to have their hands on everything. [00:03:00] If I, for instance, have a question, they need to know who to go to, where to find that information, help really disseminate that information to me, work through issues, make sure that priorities that are set by the governor, by the legislature through our budget, and through legislation as well as myself … making sure those priorities are being met, make sure that we’re timely with responses. That really the agency runs well. I’ve [00:03:30] realized now being in this role, I am gone a lot. I travel all over the state. I’m gone at least once a week. Last week I was gone all week, this week I’ll be gone again.
So the Chief of Staff really does run the agency. It’s kind of like the Chief Operation Officer, to just kind of describe it that way. So, that really allowed me to understand all the inter workings of the agency, all how the pieces work together, how the really substantive division, [00:04:00] community, economic and workforce development, how they worked together with the core parts of the agency and the support parts of the agency, including communications and legislative affairs and budget office and everything down to the building and maintenance folks who keep the lights on every day.
Chris Cate: I’m sure you stay in very close contact with the governor’s office. Because your agency is so important to his mission to create jobs, can you tell me a little bit about how the governor supports your efforts and also how [00:04:30] he holds your agency and your partners accountable?
Cissy Proctor: The governor and legislature created the agency over six years ago now. The idea was to bring together community workforce and economic development into and under one roof. We really were looking across and with those three areas of growth in our state to make sure that we recovering in a very strong way. His campaign promise as we all know is 700,000 jobs in seven years. Really [00:05:00] needed to think about how to do things differently inside state government so we could support those efforts and really get Floridians back to work.
So, now we look at those three distinct really mission that were once three different agencies as one. We know that communities can’t grow without the infrastructure they need, without the trained workforce they need, and without so many of our economic development programs that support the economy in those areas. We know that it’s incredibly important, [00:05:30] and we’re very lucky to be able to have those three visions and missions into one and under one roof.
The governor’s incredibly supportive of what we do. He is, as you know, jobs are his number one priority. The economic growth of the state, the diversification of our state has been incredible under his leadership. Really focused on making sure that we are a strong economy and that we are getting current and future Floridians back to work. Sometimes that requires training, [00:06:00] sometimes that requires pulling in other partners that we know can help on the ground make sure that every Floridian has the resources they need to get a job and support their family. That’s important because we gotta be held all accountable. So, there is definitely … we have strong metrics. For instance, when we work with companies when they’re growing jobs, we hold companies and all of our partners as well to the commitments they make to the state and they make [00:06:30] to the governor.
Chris Cate: You mentioned when the agency came together, DEO, I believe it was 2011. That’s a pretty massive undertaking, creating a new agency, bringing agencies together. Do you feel like at this point, has there been enough time where you feel like you’re hitting on all cylinders now, or is there still some growing pains of figuring out those relationships and how they can work together?
Cissy Proctor: I think as we came together, there was just the logistics of making sure you got one computer system, one email system, one financial [00:07:00] management system. You’re making sure that all the bills are paid and all that is dealt with at this point. So, we are one agency and we’re a strong agency as far as that goes. But every single day we have to continue to try to break down silos, continue to make sure that our teams are communicating, make sure that they’re communicating with those in the communities that we work with all across the state. So, I would say that the agency, I think, is definitely running on full cylinders, [00:07:30] but it’s always a challenge to make sure we’re doing it better, we’re doing more communicating, which is always a challenge.
Chris Cate: One of the stories we frequently hear about every month from DEO is related to unemployment rates. What would you say is the best way to measure the health of the economy? Are unemployment rates the best way to do that measurement? Or when Floridians hear about how the economy is doing, what’s the best place to look to know how well it’s actually performing?
Cissy Proctor: [00:08:00] Unemployment rate is important because what it shows us a high level is that people are getting jobs. They’re looking for jobs, and they’re finding jobs, which is very important to the health of an economy, but you have to have companies that are creating those jobs. On the ground, you need companies that are in a competitive business environment, which is important for their growth as well. You got low taxes, you got streamlined regulations, you got government. We’re [00:08:30] trying to get out of the way. What can we stop doing and how can we help you as you want to continue to grow?
That’s incredibly important for the job growth, is having strong competitive environment with healthy companies that are hiring, but on the other side, we also have to have the training in place to make sure that as the companies move to our state or grown in our state or get started in our state, that they have that talent that they need to make sure they’re successful as well. I think people finding jobs that they’re looking [00:09:00] for, or finding that next opportunity, or the training that they need to get that next opportunity is really a great way on the ground where people know that our economy is strong.
Chris Cate: Economic incentive designed to bring businesses to Florida have been getting a bit of criticism recently, but I know you’re supportive of these incentives and working with businesses. Why do you think incentives are so critical to support Florida businesses, and what incentives that you all offer do you think have been more effective?
Cissy Proctor: [00:09:30] We do, we run several different incentive programs out of our Division of Strategic Business Development. We have everything from tax refunds to tax credits to cash grant programs. So, what we know is that when businesses are trying to make a decision about, for instance, where they want to locate. Say you’ve got a headquarters, and they don’t want to be in their high tax, high regulation state anymore, they want to find a better environment where they can have the freedom and the flexibility to grow. We [00:10:00] want to be at the table when they’re making that decision. A lot of times tax incentives, cash grant programs and tax incentives are important to make sure that we continue to stay at the table as they make their decision about where they want to grow.
We know that, we’ve seen that for the last six and a half years. It’s cool to see some of the projects that we work on, and I worked on when I was Director of Strategic Business Development now come to fruition. For instance, you go to the Space Coast and seeing what’s going [00:10:30] on down there in the Cape is incredibly … it’s been such a success down there. That’s because of partnerships with so many people coming together from the Space Coast to local economic development organizations to the federal government with NASA and the Air Force have to come together to really support that commercialization. But incentives have played a big part in that.
So, we know they’re successful, we know they’re important to companies that are making decisions, so we absolutely have used them [00:11:00] very, I guess, strategically in the past, is a good way to put it ’cause it has to be but for the incentive that the company is making their decision. We hold companies accountable to their commitment to the state, money is being paid after those commitments have been met, and we’re continuing to hold the companies that have received incentives in the past to the same level of commitment.
Chris Cate: When you are with the governor and speaking to [00:11:30] businesses and trying to bring them to Florida, what do you think are they most receptive to? What is it about Florida that is our biggest selling point to a business?
Cissy Proctor: So, we’ve got a great competitive business environment. We do have low taxes, we do have streamlined regulations, we have a lot of organizations all over the state that are incredibly committed to making sure that when a business is looking, they want them to look in their community. That’s really important to start with. Then what a company will look [00:12:00] for is what do they need for their specific business or their company to make sure they’re successful?
Is it they need to be by a port or on a port and they need to make sure that port has the infrastructure to move their goods and services in and out, for instance. An infrastructure may be the most important thing to them. Are they a growing company where when they’re coming to the state, they have to hire a lot of folks that are skilled in a particular area? If that is true, then training may be the most important thing to them. It may be, [00:12:30] again, just the location and the ability to find … for instance, if they don’t want to build, to be able to find a location where they can renovate a facility to meet their needs. So, it just depends. It’s company by company. What we do is we work through Enterprise Florida to make sure that we understand what the company’s needs are, what they’re looking for, and we can help meet those needs if at all possible.
Chris Cate: The big companies tend to get a lot of the attention in the media, but I know small businesses [00:13:00] are critical too. What programs do you have to support small businesses?
Cissy Proctor: In the state, in this agency we have community and economic and workforce programs, so it really depends on the business and what they need. Some businesses need low taxes. For instance, they want to go in a community that they’re able to open their doors faster because they don’t have to pay as many taxes or they don’t have to go through a lot of … for instance, on the ground, [00:13:30] the permitting required and the business licenses and all of that can keep a business from growing fast. We have to remember to keep those things in focus as businesses grow.
We also want to make sure that there is the availability for funding. A lot of businesses need the availability to capital, like capital, how available is it? So, we have programs at the agency with the small business loan programs and grant programs [00:14:00] that allow and help businesses who may not be at a point where they are bankable, where a bank may not loan them money, that they can work through the programs that we have at this agency.
There’s a lot of also support needed by small business when they’re growing. How do they make some really strategic decisions to make sure that they are setting themselves up for success and for future growth? The SBDC, small business development counsel is all over, those organizations are all over the state to make sure that if [00:14:30] small businesses need that assistance, they’re there to help them. Everything from a business plan to, “Should we spend our money on marketing right now or not?” So the access to capital and just the technical and business support are very important.
Chris Cate: You’re not just supporting the businesses, but also the workers too. For Floridians who are out of work, where can they turn right now to get help finding a job?
Cissy Proctor: We work very closely, Chris, with Career Source Florida. There are career centers all [00:15:00] across the state that are there to help Floridians who are looking for their first job, looking to change jobs, looking for training. There is a very large network of the Career Source all over the state. They partner with all types of organizations, like Goodwill for instance, to make sure that depending on what the skills are and what your barriers to employment are, that we’re helping you overcome those.
Chris Cate: What is something [00:15:30] about DEO that most people may not know? Or if you like, what is something you really want people to know about DEO that they might not know?
Cissy Proctor: We really are focused on making sure we’re growing a strong economy and strong communities. A lot of times that requires really technical assistance of the community level. A lot of people think about DEO as the jobs agency, ’cause we do, we spend a lot of time talking about jobs, job growth, economic diversification, but really understanding [00:16:00] how at the agency we help support that is something we try to share with people every day. For instance, we have a program called Competitive Florida where communities can apply to be part of a competitive Florida class where they get technical assistance from our Community Development division to grow. How do they want to strategically make sure they’re set up for success? What assets do they have in their community? What are the obstacles? What are the challenges? [00:16:30] What are the things they really can hold onto and say, “If we take this path, then we think we’ll really be successful.”
Our agency is there through the Community Development division to really support that with that technical assistance because we at the state, at this point, growth management before 2011 was very heavily state driven. Now it really is community driven, so we are in a position in that division to really support that growth any way we can.
Chris Cate: Do you have a favorite [00:17:00] accomplishment, or just something that sticks out in your mind since you’ve been here at DEO? Whether it’s a big project or a small project, but a particular job or assistance you provided that just kind of stands out as, “Wow, that’s how it’s supposed to work.”
Cissy Proctor: We luckily, have a lot of really awesome partners across the state. Like I said, we work closely with Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida, Space Florida, we also work with the Ports Counsel. The governor’s been incredibly supportive of [00:17:30] ports and infrastructure in our state. When we talk about making sure that people are working collaboratively together, I’ll be at the Ports Counsel … I go to the Ports Counsel meetings when they occur. It’s really incredible to see how well they work together. There’s billions of dollars that have been funded into our ports to make sure that we are ready. For instance, when the Panama Canal was expanded, making sure we were able to take on those really large ships.
At the same those, the individual ports are competing for business, they’re working together to [00:18:00] for instance, lobby the legislature for more funding, working with the governor’s office to make sure there’s a singular message about the ports in our state, and also going up to DC and lobbying for support out of DC. When you’re looking at organization that naturally compete against each other, but are able to come together and have a singular message about the importance of their organization and the ports as a whole, I would say they’re definitely a success story.
Chris Cate: There’s obviously another election for governor next year. As [00:18:30] it related to DEO and Governor Scott’s mission to create jobs, and he’s not gonna be governor obviously after this term, what would you like to hear from candidates on the election trail as it relates to DEO and your future priorities?
Cissy Proctor: I think that the agency was created in a time where we really did need to look at growth and economic growth and diversification differently. The agency really has supported that mission. So, I think that as we move forward, [00:19:00] we have to continue to have new partnerships, we’ve got to continue to think about how can we help the economy at every stage continue to grow? We know that there are a lot of jobs being created right now, we’ve hit over 1.4 million jobs have been created since the governor took office. We’ve got a low unemployment rate. At the same time, we’ve got people flooding into the state and also into the labor force.
How do you, at a macro level, really look at policies that can support [00:19:30] that growth, and again, have government get out of the way, but provide assistance when it’s requested? I think the agency really does do that, and we do it very well because we have to be, we want to be very business friendly and we need to be quick to react to the needs of businesses, quick to react to things that happen on the ground with economy. So I think being nimble, providing that technical assistance is incredibly important.
Chris Cate: I want to transition now to the follow up four [00:20:00] questions that I ask every guest. The first being who’s a Florida leader you admire? It can a current leader or someone from the past?
Cissy Proctor: So, it’s interesting. Because we have to focus on businesses so much in the state, Sara Blakely is someone who’s always has been … I think she’s an absolutely success story. She’s from Florida, she went to FSU, so my alma mater, and she has built an incredibly strong and very large company. She [00:20:30] started it by herself. Just to see that growth, see somebody who can start a company and grow it into such an enterprise really is important to how we see wealth creation in our state, wealth creation across the country. It’s really thinking outside the box, being innovative, and having entrepreneurs be able to grow an idea into a company. I think she really does shine.
Chris Cate: For our listeners who don’t know what her company is?
Cissy Proctor: Yes, Spanx.
Chris Cate: Spanx, yep. [00:21:00] Sure.
Cissy Proctor: All the women who are listening will know exactly who she is.
Chris Cate: Absolutely. The next question on these final four is what person, place, or thing in Florida deserves more attention that what it’s currently getting?
Cissy Proctor: We focus a lot on having a town and trained workforce for businesses that exist today and in the future in Florida, but as we see the economy grow and our economy diversify, and a lot of people get back to work, we realize that there’s still [00:21:30] people that have barriers to work that need extra attention, they need maybe extra services, time, training to make sure that they can get into their first job or get in their next job. We see that all across the state. There are a lot of examples of that.
You look in Osceola County and Valencia College, they’re doing a project in the jail there where they provide, they’re teaching folks that are and the jail, inmates, in the construction sector. [00:22:00] It’s a partnership, really. The college is going in, they’re teaching these classes about what you need to get your certificate so when you get out, there are jobs available, there’s assistance available through … for instance, Goodwill helps on the back end. Their employers actually come into the jail to interview people who, before they even get out of jail. Bank of American helps with setting up checking accounts and financial management. So when you’re getting [00:22:30] out of jail and you have a job waiting on the other end, they’re seeing the recidivism rate go down significantly because you’ve got a job, you’re able to support yourself and your family, and you see a future, which is incredibly important.
We also have other programs like Unique Abilities. We have programs that assist vets and disabled vets. So we’ve got a lot of programs in the agency that help individuals overcome those barriers, but I think we have to continue to [00:23:00] focus on that areas as the economy grows.
Chris Cate: Do you have a favorite Florida place to visit?
Cissy Proctor: I grew up going down to St Teresa in Franklin County. It’s a beautiful part of the state. Beautiful beach, go down there quite a bit throughout the year. So, it’s really just something that has a special place in my heart. My husband and I both grew up going down there. We actually have a picture of us before we knew each other in the water together. So, it’s just something that is important to our family and [00:23:30] important to take some time off and just go sit on the beach.
Chris Cate: Finally, do you have a favorite Florida sports team?
Cissy Proctor: The Seminoles, of course, being a double grad from FSU. The Seminoles are my favorite, and I’m excited about football season.
Chris Cate: Good. Well thank you so much for being on the show.
Cissy Proctor: Sure, sure. Thanks for having me.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. If you aren’t subscribed to the podcast yet, I hope you’ll look us up and subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app, like Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or Google Play [00:24:00] Music. If you leave a review, that would be great too. Thanks to my team at SalterMitchellPR for making this podcast possible. If you need help telling your Florida story, we’ve got you covered. We offer issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy, and media relations assistance. We also have our own in-house creative and research teams. Look us up at SalterMitchellPR.com for more information. You can also find more information about the Fluent in Floridian podcast at fluentinfloridian.com. [00:24:30] Have a great day.