News Column

Florida Economy's Bounceback Is Real

May 9, 2013
Florida Economy

An economic forecast from Wells Fargo released Wednesday says Florida's economic recovery is for real, but it's just not very exciting.

The report says the state's convalescence is moving along two separate -- but ultimately connected -- paths. One is being driven by Federal Reserve policies that have kept interest rates at historically low levels for the past few years.

That has allowed homeowners to refinance -- freeing up more spending money -- and encouraged investors to swoop in, buy homes and fix them up for rentals or sales.

The Fed's policies have also lowered the value of the dollar abroad, boosting international tourism.

More than 3.5 million Canadians and 1.6 million Brazilians visited Florida last year, "up solidly from the prior year," the forecast says. The top destinations were again Orlando and Miami.

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner said the surge in overseas visitors is one reason Orlando and Miami bounced back sooner than other parts of the state.

Vitner is less cheery about Florida's labor market and its lazy income growth.

The statewide jobless rate has been steadily improving, but that's largely been driven by hiring in the state's lowest-paying industries. Restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions added about 40,500 jobs in the past year, with restaurants leading the way.

Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the state's economy. The statewide unemployment rate in March was 7.5 percent. For Metro Orlando, it was 6.6 percent.

"While serious efforts have been made to diversify Florida's economy, and many have been successful, the growth of higher paying jobs continues to lag behind," the forecast says.

Vitner also said it appears that many employers in both Florida and across the country are adding part-time workers -- perhaps to test customer demand or avoid possible cost increases associated with new health-insurance requirements.

He said that issue may take time to resolve itself but it "does not mean that Florida's recovery is not real or that the pace of growth is not gaining momentum."

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Source: (c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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