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State Board of Administration Launches Investment Plan

Florida's pension fund officers will now be looking beyond Wall Street to invest state retirees' dollars in something a little more local – Florida businesses.

The State Board of Administration on Friday unveiled the Florida Growth Fund Initiative, which stems from a 2008 law requiring the board to invest pension dollars into Florida technology and growth enterprises. The SBA will invest $250 million in these businesses in hopes of bringing new jobs and business to the state in the future.

“We've got to grow the jobs here,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who serves as a trustee for the board. “We've got to grow the businesses here.”

The SBA has contracted with financial advisers Hamilton Lane to research potential investments and then dole out the money. Hamilton Lane advisers have already begun meeting with Florida business groups, consultants and university officials to get ideas on potential businesses that may be interested in Florida.

Investments could include businesses in space technology, aerospace, computer technology, renewable energy and medical and life sciences.

“I am confident that there are $250 million worth of great ideas in Florida that will make a lot of money for SBA,” said Mario Giannini, chief executive officer of Hamilton Lane.

Former state Rep. Frank Atkisson, who was the House sponsor of the measure, said he is hopeful that the Legislature will now “keep its nose out of it” and let the SBA handle the investing without interference. He added that the potential for Florida's business growth was immeasurable.

“This is huge for the person in small business with the great idea,” he said.

The announcement largely gained kudos from members of the business and academic community who were on hand for the announcement.

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, called it a “rocketship.” The Chamber pushed the bill during the 2008 legislative session as a way to help drive the state's economy from low-cost, low-wage, to high-tech and high-wage. He added that technological advances will occur, and hopefully now, they will happen in Florida.

“Someone is going to cure cancer. Someone is going make solar energy work,” he said.

As for the people whose money is being invested, some are simply sitting back and watching.

Doug Martin, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the state employee union is hopeful that the investments will work, but that some people are still uneasy.

“I know that some of the retirees and some of the other representatives of employees have some concerns because we don't ever want to see the pension fund turned into a slush fund for project,” he said.

The SBA will be required to make annual an annual report to the House Speaker and Senate President on the status of the investment. SBA officials said they are hopeful that if the $250 million investment brings back good returns, that they can increase the investments.

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