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Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson is leaving the organization in January to lead the state’s department of economic opportunity under Governor-elect Ron Desantis’s administration, the organization announced yesterday.
Lawson was tapped to lead Visit Florida by outgoing Governor Rick Scott in January 2017. He was tasked with bringing more transparency and accountability to the organization after multiple executive departures in late 2016 and early 2017, including ex-Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe, over controversial contracts with Miami rapper Pitbull and other marketing programs.
Visit Florida said it is just beginning a search for a successor. An interim CEO has not been named yet.
While elected state officials and tourism leaders have praised Lawson’s leadership, others in Florida’s tourism industry have been more critical of how the organization handled its response to the state’s red tide algae bloom earlier this year, for example.
In a statement, Visit Florida called Lawson a “champion” for the state’s 1.4 million tourism workers. Lawson has also held various other government positions at the state and federal levels such as Assistant Secretary of Enforcement for the U.S. Department of the Treasury under President George W. Bush.
“[Ken] has ensured Visit Florida is transparent, accountable, and efficient in the promotion of our state, and has worked diligently to guarantee every dollar spent has a high return on investment,” the statement said. “Visit Florida and our board of directors look forward to working with Governor-elect DeSantis and his team to select the best President and CEO to serve our industry and our state.”
Scott credits Lawson with creating 1.6 million private sector jobs across the state during his tenure while also setting visitation records. Florida is the most visited U.S. state and had more than 118 million visitors in 2017, a record high, and is on track to break records again in 2018.