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A ‘New Economy’ for Florida?

Tom PattonWhen I moved to Florida more than 9 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that some 800-1000 people were coming to the Sunshine State every day.

Think about that for a moment. That’s 292,000 to 365,000 new Floridians a year. No one really ever talked about how many might be leaving… but suffice it to say that it was pretty much a net gain.

Housing was cheap, there were jobs, many in construction and services, houses were being built as fast as developers could slap them together (in some cases), retail strip malls and covered malls and later “Town Centers” sprang up to separate people from their money… and generate property taxes and collect sales taxes for state and local governments. All those stores needed employees… times were darn good.

Then, too, the lure of great beaches and exciting nightlife and sprawling theme parks drew millions and millions of tourists… all spending money… generating tax revenue on sales taxes and bed taxes and keeping retail clerks and theme park cast members employed. What’s not to like?

A few months ago the Tallahassee Democrat published a sobering assessment from the President of the State Chamber of Commerce.

“When you’re president of the Chamber of Commerce, people ask you, ‘When is the economy coming back?’ ” said Mark Wilson, who has that job in Florida. “The truth is, never. The economy is never going back to what it was.”

So then what will it be, and can it be better? Obviously, I don’t know the answer to that question.

I know the federal stimulus money is very tempting, but one time money being spent on operating expenses is perhaps not the best idea. The idea of a stimulus is to stimulate… and that it might be the impetus to begin getting things going again. But what is certain is the stimulus is not going to be a bottomless cup of coffee. It can’t be. They can't print enough money.

I was talking to my financial advisor not long ago, who was talking about the state of the national economy. He said that historically, payroll tax cuts always work, and business income tax cuts always work to improve the stock market and the job situation… but that the political climate right now doesn’t favor either of those approaches. But his assertion is that part of the reason the market continues to struggle far off the highs of last year is the direction (or lack of) from Washington. It’s possible the U.S. Economy will never going back to what it was.

There are hundreds of stories of people in difficult circumstances. One thing that is particularly disconcerting is that you apparently have to be in default on your mortgage two months before you can qualify for any assistance in restructuring your loan to reduce your payments. That makes sense from the bank’s point of view. If someone is paying the mortgage, get the money while you can. Restructuring comes under the “it’s better to get something than nothing” department. Still it seems like there should be SOMETHING for the people who worked hard, played by the rules, and might need some help to avoid that two month arrears. But that’s not the way the game is played.

I’ve meandered a bit. If Florida is to have a new economy, on what will it be based? The experts right now are saying space, aviation, biotech, and other high-tech opportunities.

That means education, but are we willing and able to pay for it?

2 Responses »

  1. The experts are meandering a bit too, Tom. Floridians face three big problems: adequate water resources, property insurance exposure, and cheap, clean energy. All three are problems because they are on unsustainable paths. All three are opportunities because smart people can use technology to start solving them and thereby to making this state's economy more sustainable. That's an economy we can live with. You rightly conclude that education is crucial. I'm willing to pay for it. Anyone else?

  2. What about the existing high tech people IN Florida right now? I've a 15 year professional software developer and server engineer, and I have had 3 consecutive companies dry up and ask me to work when they know that they can't pay me. Should I just become a teacher and call this who working thing a wrap?